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CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY

Vol. 24, No.2, Apri11983

1983 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, all rights reserved 0011-3204/83/2402-0004$2.25

Burial Customs as an Archaeological


Source1
by V. A. Alekshin

BURIAL CUSTOMS arc one of the most important archaeological


sources, and for a number of regions (for example, the Eurasian
steppes) they are the only one. In many cases, only the excavation of ancient burial grounds can give us information on the
spiritual and material culture of ancient peoples. This is especially true for archaeologists in the Soviet Union, where the
vast steppes from the Black Sea to the Transbaikal region
contain burial grounds of ancient pastoralists but almost no
ancient settlements.
Soviet archaeologists have accumulated vast experience in
the methodology of excavating ancient burial grounds and the
scientific analysis of the burials unearthed. The point of departure for the analysis of ancient burials is the reconstruction of
burial rites. Classic examples of such reconstruction are the
researches of Gryaznov (19.'i6). As early as the 1930s, Soviet
archaeologists had concluded that burial customs reflect the
basic features of the social structure of primitive tribes
(Ravdonikas 1932). Their studies of this problem have taken
two principal directions. The first involves the interpretation
of the double burials of the Bronze Age in connection with the
reconstruction of the social structure of Eastern European
primitive tribes. One of the first attempts at sociological
analysis of these double burials was the work of Artamonov
(1934), who proposed that what we arc dealing with here is the
violent killing of wives or concubines characteristic of the
period of establishment of patriarchal relations. Subsequent
excavations cast doubt upon this proposition when it was
1

A greatly abridged version of this paper, entitled "The Burial

Rite as an Archaeological Source, 11 has recently appeared in Kratkie


Soobsltclzeniya lnstituta Arkheol<Jgii AN SSSR 167.

V. A. ALEKSHIN is Research Assistant at the Institute of Archaeology, Department of Central Asia and Caucasus, of the Leningrad
Branch of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences (Dvortsovaya
nabereznaya 18, 192041 Leningrad, U.S.S.R.). Born in 1944 he
received his Ph.D. in 1977 and has lectured on the archaeology
of Central Asia at the University of Leningrad. His dissertation
dealt with the social structure of early agricultural societies as
evidenced in burials in Central Asia and the Near East. He has
published "Burial Customs of the Ancient Agricultural Communities of Southern Turkmenia and the Problem of Their
Sociological Interpretation" (Sovetskaya Ark/ieologiya 1976 no.
2, pp. 5-15), "The Development and Succession of Bronze' Age
Cultures in Southern Turkmenia" (KraJkie Soobsclteniya Instituta
Arklieologii AN SSSR 16!: 24-31), and "Traditions and Innovations in Burial Customs," in Traditions and Innovations in the
Evolution of Ancient Cultures, edited by V. M. Masson and V. N.

Borjaz, pp. 18-22 (Leningrad, 1981).


The present paper was submitted in final form 19 IV 82.

Vol. 24 No.2 Apri/1983

found that the joint burials of persons of opposite sexes had


often occurred at different times, the woman not infrequently
having been buried first (Itina 1961, Sorokin 1962). In the
current Soviet archaeological literature it is widely held that
double burials attest to the importance of the nuclear family,
which had become the most significant social unit, asserting its
economic and ideological independence (Masson 1976: 156-57).
The second direction is represented by studies in the social
differentiation of primitive collectives where this differentiation
was reflected in mortuary practices. The first steps in this
direction were also undertaken in the prewar years. Especially
noteworthy is the monograph by Kruglov and Podgaetskii
(1935), in which burial grounds of the Pit Grave and Catacomb
cultures of the Black Sea steppes were subjected to sociological
analysis and, for the fust time in Soviet archaeology, criteria
for assessing burials in terms of poverty and wealth were
proposed. Problems in the study of the social structure of
ancient societies were also posed in works by lessen (1950) and
Piotrovskii (1949). Development of this problem proceeded on
the widest scale in the 1960s and 1970s. In this connection one
should mention first of all the synthesis of Masson (1976) and
a series of articles by him analyzing the social structure of
early agricultural societies in terms of data on burial customs
(.l\Iasson 1967, 1973, 1974). Bronze Age burial grounds of the
Causasus have been analyzed by Kushnareva (1973), those
of southern Siberia by Khlobystina (1972, 1973), burials of
the Catacomb culture by Klein (1968), and Iron Age burial
grounds in the Urals by Smirnov (1970). In 1972 an AllUnion Symposium devoted to problems of reconstruction of
the social structure of ancient tribes based on data on burial
customs was held in Leningrad (see U speklzi sredneaziatskoi
arklzcologii 1972:48). Among the topics discussed at this symposium were problems of methodology in sodological research
and criteria for evaluating the wealth of burials. The symposium
gave new impetus to studies of this problem (Masson 1976,
Alekshin 1977).
The burial rite belongs to that category of rites by means of
which society sanctions the passage of a person from one
qualitative state to another, among them rituals connected
with childbirth, initiation, and marriage. From the time of
their appearance in the Mousterian, burial customs indicate
that they served to transmit the deceased member of the community to another state, another world. Different communities
conceived of that world in various ways, hence the great
variety of burial customs recorded by archaeologists in excavations of ancient burial grounds.
Funerary practices have two interrelated components. The
137

first of these is ritual-the activities sanctioned by tradition


that occur before, during, and after the burial and are considered essential to the transfer to the other world of deceased
members of the community, both those forming its nucleus
and others related by blood. The second characterizes the
social position of the departed. It consists of the collection of
material elements-the burial structure, the assemblage of
grave goods, and the position of the deceased-required for a
person of a particular age and sex to be transported to the
other world. The combination of these two components of
the burial rite makes up the standard (traditional) funerary
customs of any archaeological culture. These two fundamental
components must not be considered in isolation one from the
other. In order to extract any information, it is necessary to
analyze in detail the burial rite as a whole.
A great variety of information is potentially incorporated in
burial customs as an archaeological source. Hausler (1975: 8394) considers it possible by investigating burial customs to
establish the age-sex and social differentiation of the society
and to illuminate certain points connected with the reconstruction of the forms of marriage and the family in primitive
times. In my opinion he somewhat underestimates the amount
of information that can be gleaned from the study of burial
customs.
The current procedure for investigating a source such as a
burial complex requires preliminary reconstruction of the
burial rite. Only through such reconstruction can burials be
used as a source of cultural, sociological, and demographic
information. Of course, the archaeologist cannot fully reconstruct all the details of burial customs. Beyond his field of
vision lie, for example, the extremely varied ritual activities
performed before the moment of burial. However, to the extent
possible, the most complete reconstruction of the burial rite
should be carried out, special attention being paid to the
method of burial (inhumation or cremation), the type of burial
(solitary, double, or collective), the form of the burial structure, ritual activities at the time of burial and later, the assemblage of grave goods, and the position of the deceased. In
reconstructive syntheses, burial customs can be broken down
into six informational units. Each casts light upon a particular
aspect of the life of ancient societies. In the case of the first
three of these informational units, both components of the
burial rite, the ritual and the material, are of decisive importance.

CONCEPTIONS OF DEATH AND THE OTHER WORLD


The first informational unit reflects the ideas of people about
the means of passage of the deceased into the other world and
about life in the land of the dead. By studying burial customs
temporally and spatially, it is possible to trace the evolution of
conceptions of the other world and to arrive at an idea of the
attitudes of peoples of remote historical epochs towards death
and the dead. In studying this range of questions, one should
make use of written sources if they are available.

THE DEVELOPMENT AND SUCCESSION OF


CULTURES
The second informational unit covers problems of cultural
genesis. By investigating burial customs, one can trace the
formation and development of an archaeological culture and
the succession of archaeological cultures. \Vhen one archaeological culture is succeeded by another, there may be a complete or a partial replacement of funerary practices. A complete replacement of one standard burial rite by another attests
to the total disappearance of the bearers of a concrete archaeological culture, which may be due to migration, military

138

catastrophe, or epidemics. Partial replacement of a standard


burial rite by another, i.e., a basic change in the majority of
the components of the previously standard burial rite and its
transformation into a new standard rite, attests to the penetration of bearers of an alien archaeological culture into the
milieu of the bearers of the archaeological culture in question.
This frequently leads to the formation of a third archaeological
culture distinct from the first two. In this situation any of the
traditional elements of the previously standard burial rite may
be subject to influence. Changes may occur in the type of
burial, the ritual activities, the composition of the assemblage
of grave goods, and sometimes the form of the burial structure.
The relation between the previously traditional features surviving in the new standard burial rite and the new elements
resulting from outside influence addresses the question of which
cultural component (local or outside) is dominant in the
formation of the new archaeological culture.
For example, in the early and developed Aeneolithic (Namaz~
ga I-II) of southern Turkmenia, the dead were buried in
solitary graves within their settlements. The deceased lay
on his side in a crouched position, with his head to the south.
Burial accessories consisted of one or two pottery vessels and
beads. In the late Aeneolithic (Namazga III), there are collective burials in tholoi (Sarianidi 1961 :284-99; 1965: 102-5),
which probably served as family tombs (Sarianidi 1972:22-26).
In addition to the tlzo/oi, single burials are also known. Both
types of burial are found only within settlements. The southward orientation of the deceased is maintained, although a
northward orientation has been recorded in a number of cases.
The first indications of property inequalities appear here;
isolated graves contain bronze ornaments (blades, pins) in
addition to pottery and beads.
The traditions of collective and individual burials formed in
the Aeneolithic continue into the Early and Middle Bronze
Age (Namazga IV and V). All the changes in burial rites from
the preceding period are related to a deepening of the process
of social differentiation of the population. Burials appear with
bronze rings, blades, and pins with zoomorphic heads and
gold and silver rings and pins. Rich burials include seals,
female statuettes, religious objects, and weapons. In meager
graves either there are no grave goods at all or they are limited
to one or two pottery vessels and beads (fig. 1). In general,
with reference to the character of burial customs-the location
of burial grounds, the position of the skeletons, and the composition of the assemblages of grave goods-we can speak of
an indigenous development in the submontane belt of southern
Turkmenia in the Aeneolithic and the Early and Middle
Bronze Age.
In burials of the Late Bronze Age (Namazga VI), the burial
rite undergoes substantial change (fig. 1). Collective burials
disappear. Female figurines, weapons, ornaments in precious
metals, seals with geometric patterns, and depictions of
animals and birds are no longer present in the tombs. Along
with these facts, which may point to a certain social regression
of the society, there is innovation in the composition of assemblages of grave goods. Bronze blades and ornaments of precious
metals disappear and are replaced by ornaments of a new kind:
bronze bracelets, rings, earrings, temporal pendants, diadems,
and hairpins. None of these innovations can be derived from
the Namazga V complex. They indicate that groups of people
of another culture had penetrated into the Kopet Dag submontane belt.
The custom of placing bronze bracelets, earrings, temporal
pendants, hairpins, rings, etc., in graves is to be sought among
those tribes of Central Asia whose material culture is similar
to that of the Namazga VI period in Turkmenia. There is only
one culture in Central Asia that fits this description: the
Sapalli culture, remains of which have been discovered in
southern Uzbekistan (Askarov 1973). In addition to ornaments,
graves of the Sapalli culture yield various assortments of potCURRENT

ANTHROPOLOGY

first of these is ritual-the activities sanctioned by tradition


that occur before, during, and after the burial and are considered essential to the transfer to the other world of deceased
members of the community, both those forming its nucleus
and others related by blood. The second characterizes the
social position of the departed. It consists of the collection of
material elements-the burial structure, the assemblage of
grave goods, and the position of the deceased-required for a
person of a particular age and sex to be transported to the
other world. The combination of these two components of
the burial rite makes up the standard (traditional) funerary
customs of any archaeological culture. These two fundamental
components must not be considered in isolation one from the
other. In order to extract any information, it is necessary to
analyze in detail the burial rite as a whole.
A great variety of information is potentially incorporated in
burial customs as an archaeological source. Hausler (1975:8394) considers it possible by investigating burial customs to
establish the age-sex and social differentiation of the society
and to illuminate certain points connected with the reconstruction of the forms of marriage and the family in primitive
times. In my opinion he somewhat underestimates the amount
of information that can be gleaned from the study of burial
customs.
The current procedure for investigating a source such as a
burial complex requires preliminary reconstruction of the
burial rite. Only through such reconstruction can burials be
used as a source of cultural, sociological, and demographic
information. Of course, the archaeologist cannot fully reconstruct all the details of burial customs. Beyond his field of
vision lie, for example, the extremely varied ritual activities
performed before the moment of burial. However, to the extent
possible, the. most complete reconstruction of the burial rite
should be carried out, special attention being paid to the
method of burial (inhumation or cremation), the type of burial
(solitary, double, or collective), the form of the burial structure, ritual activities at the time of burial and later, the assemblage of grave goods, and the position of the deceased. In
reconstructive syntheses, burial customs can be broken down
into six informational units. Each casts light upon a particular
aspect of the life of ancient societies. In the case of the first
three of these informational units, both components of the
burial rite, the ritual and the material, are of decisive importance.

CONCEPTIONS OF DEATH AND THE OTHER WORLD


The first informational unit reflects the ideas of people about
the means of passage of the deceased in to the other world and
about life in the land of the dead. By studying burial customs
temporally and spatially, it is possible to trace the evolution of
conceptions of the other world and to arrive at an idea of the
attitudes of peoples of remote historical epochs towards death
and the dead. In studying this range of questions, one should
make use of written sources if they are available.

THE DEVELOPMENT AND SUCCESSION OF


CULTURES
The second informational unit covers problems of cultural
genesis. By investigating burial customs, one can trace the
formation and development of an archaeological culture and
the succession of archaeological cultures. When one archaeological culture is succeeded by another, there may be a complete or a partial replacement of funerary practices. A complete replacement of one standard burial rite by another attests
to the total disappearance of the bearers of a concrete archaeological culture, which may be due to migration, military

138

catastrophe, or epidemics. Partial replacement of a stan(j.ard


burial rite by another, i.e., a basic change in the majority of
the components of the previously standard burial rite and its
transformation into a new standard rite, attests to the penetration of bearers of an alien archaeological culture into the
milieu of the bearers of the archaeological culture in question.
This frequently leads to the formation of a third archaeological
culture distinct from the first two. In this situation any of the
traditional elements of the previously standard burial rite may
be subject to influence. Changes may occur in the type of
burial, the ritual activities, the composition of the assemblage
of grave goods, and sometimes the form of the burial structure.
The relation between the previously traditional features surviving in the new standard burial rite and the new elements
resulting from outside influence addresses the question of which
cultural component (local or outside) is dominant in the
formation of the new archaeological culture.
For example, in the early and developed Aeneolithic (Namazga I-II) of southern Turkmenia, the dead were buried in
solitary graves within their settlements. The deceased lay
on his side in a crouched position, with his head to the south.
Burial accessories consisted of one or two pottery vessels and
beads. In the late Aeneolithic (Namazga III), there are collective burials in tholoi (Sarianidi 1961:284-99; 1965: 102-5),
which probably served as family tombs (Sarianidi 1972: 22-26).
In addition to the tlw/oi, single burials are also known. Both
types of burial are found only within settlements. The southward orientation of the deceased is maintained, although a
northward orientation has been recorded in a number of cases.
The first indications of property inequalities appear here;
isolated graves contain bronze ornaments (blades, pins) in
addition to pottery and beads.
The traditions of collective and individual burials formed in
the Aeneolithic continue into the Early and Middle Bronze
Age (Namazga IV and V). All the changes in burial rites from
the preceding period are related to a deepening of the process
of social differentiation of the population. Burials appear with
bronze rings, blades, and pins with zoomorphic heads and
gold and silver rings and pins. Rich burials include seals,
female statuettes, religious objects, and weapons. In meager
graves either there are no grave goods at all or they are limited
to one or two pottery vessels and beads (fig. 1). In general,
with reference to the character of burial customs-the location
of burial grounds, the position of the skeletons, and the composition of the assemblages of grave goods-we can speak of
an indigenous development in the submontane belt of southern
Turkmenia in the Aeneolithic and the Early and Middle
Bronze Age.
In burials of the Late Bronze Age (Namazga VI), the burial
rite undergoes substantial change (fig. 1). Collective burials
disappear. Female figurines, weapons, ornaments in precious
metals, seals with geometric patterns, and depictions of
animals and birds are no longer present in the tombs. Along
with these facts, which may point to a certain social regression
of the society, there is innovation in the composition of assemblages of grave goods. Bronze blades and ornaments of precious
metals disappear and are replaced by ornaments of a new kind:
bronze bracelets, rings, earrings, temporal pendants, diadems,
and hairpins. None of these innovations can be derived from
the Namazga V complex. They indicate that groups of people
of another culture had penetrated into the Kopet Dag submontane belt.
The custom of placing bronze bracelets, earrings, temporal
pendants, hairpins, rings, etc., in graves is to be sought among
those tribes of Central Asia whose material culture is similar
to that of the Namazga VI period in Turkmenia. There is only
one culture in Central Asia that fits this description: the
Sapalli culture, remains of which have been discovered in
southern Uzbekistan (Askarov 1973). In addition to ornaments,
graves of the Sapalli culture yield various assortments of potCURRENT

ANTHROPOLOGY

Standard burial rite for Namazga V

Standard burial rite of the Sapalli culture

Collective burials (tholoi)


Individual burials (pits)------,
Female figurines
Bronze ornaments (blades, pins)
Beads---------------------,

Individual burials (catacombs)


Bronze ornaments (bracelets, rings, pendants, earrings)
Seals depicting snakes
Three pottery vessels
Animal bones

Gold and silver ornaments

Seals depicting birds and animals


Religious objects
One or two pottery vessels~
Ritual features common to the two cultures

Burial grounds in settlements


Northward orientation of deceased

Standard burial rite for Namazga VI (submontane belt)

Burial grounds in settlements


Northward orientation of deceased
Individual burials (pits)
One or two pottery vessels
Bronze ornaments (bracelets, rings, pendants, earrings)

Beads
FIG. I. Burial customs in the submontane belt of Turkmenia.

tery, seal-amulets bearing representations of snakes, and


animal bones. Some bearers of the Sapalli culture evidently
penetrated westward into the submontane belt, where mixing
with the local population led to the formation of new burial
customs substantially different from those prevailing in the
time of Namazga V. The correlation between traditions and
innovations in the standard burial rite of the ancient agriculturists of southern Turkmenia during the N amazga VI period
attests to the fact that a local cultural component formed the
basis of the culture of the Late Bronze Age in the submontane
belt.
Extremely promising also is the comparison of burial customs
of ancient tribes known to us from written sources with standard burial customs reconstructed on the basis of archaeological
data for the purpose of establishing identity between ethnic
communities and archaeological cultures.

AGE AND SEX DIFFERENCES


The third informational unit makes it possible to characterize
the social position of various groups in ancient societies by age
and sex. Ethnography suggests that burial customs reflect agesex differences among the deceased (Bendan 1930: 262-72;
Binford 1971: 13-15), and similar regularities have been traced
in excavations of ancient burial grounds (Puvak 1972:70-71;
Mandel'shtam 1968:118, 122, 125, 127-28).
Since there are regular patterns of distribution of goods in
graves which correlate with the sex and age of the deceased, it
is desirable to reconstruct the age and sex structure of the
collective which left the burial ground. Solving this problem
by purely anthropological methods is not always possible
owing to the poor preservation of skeletal material. Several
investigators bave proposed combined methods for reconstructing the original picture. Fischer (1956: 14, 15) and
Riickdeschel (1968: 19-23), after establishing on the basis of
anthropological evidence the rules for the distribution of
goods as a function of the sex and age of the deceased, extended
them to other burial grounds of the same archaeological culture,
there performing age and sex determinations based on assemblages of grave goods. The error of this procedure is demonstrated by Gallay (1972), who points out that it is effective
only when the study is confined to a single burial ground (see
Sorokin 1962:49; Buchwaldek and Koutesky 1972:150-69).
Obviously it is possible to determine the sex and age of the
dead in a single burial ground by other than anthropological

Vol. 24 No.2 April1983

methods, but it would be a mistake to apply the results obtained to another burial ground of the same culture.
After reconstructing the age-sex composition of a population
buried in a burial ground, one should consider separately three
major groups of burials: men, women, and children. Where
possible, each of these should be broken down into subgroups.
For each subgroup distinguished according to age and sex, the
standard burial rite (rituals, form of burial structure, assemblage of grave goods) has to be determined. It is specifically
these characteristics which must be employed to determine the
social position of a given age or sex category of the population
over the course of time. When a single standard burial rite
characterizes different age and sex categories, it should be
acknowledged ::.at sex and age differences are not reflected in
the burial customs of the particular burial site.
The application of this procedure to the study of burials
among the ancient agricultural populations of the Near East
and Central Asia has yielded the following results:
1. The burial customs of ancient agriculturists record differences in productive activities between men and women. Men
engaged in agricultural work (sickles in burials at Catal
Hiiyiik). Traditional female occupations were sewing (needles
in graves at Catal Hiiyiik and Dzharkutan), basket making
(corresponding tools in graves at Catal Hiiyiik), weaving (spun
cloth in burials at Karatepe, Altintepe, Hissar, and Sapallitepa and a spindle in a burial at Hissar), knitting (needles in
graves at Dzharkutan), and food preparation (pestles and
querns in burials at Tepe Sabz). The burial inventory of
graves of the 7th-6th millennium B.c. reflects remnants of
archaic stages of economic activity in which hunting played an
important part in securing meat for the population (sling
cradles in male burials at Ali Kosh, flint arrow- and spearheads
in graves of men at Catal Hiiyiik). Weapons appear in burials
of men in the 3d-2d millennium B.c. (Hissar, Sapallitepa,
Dzharkutan). It is this distinctive feature that is characteristic of male burials in early class societies (Burial Site A at
Kish).
2. Burial customs make it possible to tr<!ce the development
of patriarchal relations in early agricultural societies. Assemblages of grave goods in burials from the 7th to-the beginning
of the 3d millennium B.C. attest to the full and equal positions
of men and women in society (Ali Kosh, Catal Hiiyiik, Karatepe, Hissar I). From then on there is a gradual impoverishment of female burials and an increase in the wealth of the
graves of men (Hissar II). In the second half of the 3d and the
beginning of the 2d millennium B.C. this process takes on
139

especially vivid forms (Hissar III, Alisar). With the emergence


of early class society the property and social ascendancy of
men is indisputable (Burial Site A at Kish). These changes in
burial customs are a consequence of the development of
patriarchal relations among early agriculturists. The formation
of these relations, stimulated by the intensive development of
a manufacturing economy and the broade!l.ing of contacts
between communities and countries (barter, trade, military
expansion), ultimately leads to the dominance of men in the
economic and social organization of ancient agricultural societies, though not everywhere with the same degree of intensity.
Burial customs also attest to unequal rates of development
of patriarchal relations in early agricultural societies. Thus,
burials of men and women at Sapallitepa dated to the first
half of tbe 2d millennium B.C. reveal regular patterns of distribution of goods that are characteristic of the beginning of
tbe 3d millennium B.C., when men and women still enjoyed
equal social status.
3. Burial customs reflect the hierarchy of age and sex
classes in early agricultural societies. From the ith to the
beginning of the 3d millennium B.C., adult men and women
(older than 20 years) were full and equal members of society.
Standard assemblages of grave goods have been found in
graves of men and women aged 20-50, who are the most ablebodied members of the communities (Karatepe, Sapallitepa,
Hissar I). Burials of women appear richer than those of men
owing to the large quantity of ornaments placed in their
graves. It is probable that these age and sex categories played
a leading part in the economic and social life of the collectives.
Burials of elderly men and women (50-60 years of age) contain
an impoverished burial inventory (Karatepe, Hissar I). Evidently this is due to their lesser participation in the productive
activity of their communities. The special respect enjoyed by
persons of very advanced age in primitive societies is also
reflected in burial customs. Burials of women over 60 are
characterized by a wealth of grave goods (Sapallitepa, HissarI).
In the second half of the 3d and beginning of the 2d millennium B.c., rich collections of grave goods are found in graves
of men 20-50 years of age. Burials of men 50-60 appear somewhat poorer than these but nevertheless richer than before
(Hissar II-HI). In women's graves the assemblage of goods is
much poorer or entirely absent (Hissar II-III, Alisar). The
very poorest are the graves of older women (40-50). The leading
role in the life of society was clearly played by men aged 20-50.
In 27 out of 32 cases (84%), the graves of young men and
women (16-20) contain grave goods. In 23 of these cases, representing both sexes, "adult" assemblages of grave goods were
found (at Gawra, Altintepe, Hissar, Sapallitepa). Obviously
these age and sex categories enjoyed the status of adults or were
considered full and equal members of their communities. At the
same time, however, some burials in this age-group exhibited
either deviations from the carefully developed burial ritual
characteristic of adult burials (Sapallitepa) or "children's" assemblages of grave goods. These facts are direct testimony to
the unequal status of the group of persons indicated. It is
scarcely possible to establish fully the reason for this phenomenon, but it cannot be excluded that these are burials of persons
who were unmarried at the time of their deaths. By and large
the social position of young men and young women remains
unchanged over several millennia.
The community members most lacking in rights were children
under the age of one year. Their burials are practically devoid
of grave goods. Of 353 such graves examined, grave goods were
found in only 18 (5%). Frequently infants were buried separately not only from adults, but even from older children.
Such infant burial sites have been recorded at Altintepe,
Gawra, and Tell es-Sawwan. Obviously, the lives of these
infants came to an end before they had reached the age at
140

which the community was obliged to manifest even the mini~


mum of concern about them.
Of the 53 graves of children aged 1-6, grave goods were
found in 20 (37%). As a rule, the goods consist of a small
number of ornaments or pottery vessels, often miniatures
especially prepared for children's burials. Judging by the
assemblages of grave goods, this age-group also had l"ss than
full and equal status. The burials at Altintepe show that grave
goods appear in the burials of young children no earlier than
the age of 2-3. It is possible that a "children's" grave-goods
assemblage appears only in graves. of children who had been
weaned before the time of their death.
Much more frequently, a "children's" assortment of grave
goods is represented in burials of children aged 7-10. Of 18
such graves examined, 14 (77%)" were found to contain goods.
In 5 (27%) graves there \vere "adult" goods; 3 of these
were the graves of girls (at Ka~atepe), and in the other 2
cases (Altintepe, Hissar) the sex of the deceased was not
established. The graves of bo.ys of this age (Karatepe, Sapallitepa) have "children's" assemblages of grave goods. These
facts show that some, if not all, girls on reaching the age of i-10
advanced to the group of adult women. Evidently they had
already reached marriageable age, as determined by the
mar'l-iage and family norms of ancient agricultural communities, which suggest early marriage of females.
In the graves of juveniles (11-15), grave goods are represented in 33 (62';{,) of 53 burials examined. In 15 (28';~) of
these, "adult" burial inventories were found. The majority of
skeletons found in these graves have not been subjected to
anthropological analysis (Tell es-Sawwan, Amuq, Carchemish,
Hissar). Where anthropological determinations have been
made, it has been established that the "adult" grave goods
were all in the graves of girls (Sapallitepa). In percentage
terms, the number of burials with "adult" grave goods has not
increased compared with the preceding age-group. This indicates that boys did not acquire the status of adults at this age.
The frequency of occurrence of "adult" grave goods increases very substantially in the graves of young men and
young women, reaching 71%. "!\len's" assemblages of grave
goods appear in the graves of young men (16-20) (Hissar).
The quantitative increase in the number of burials having
"adult" grave goods in the young adult age-group compared to
juveniles can only be explained by assuming that the age of
15-16 was considered the boundary separating boys from
adult men.

SOCIAL STRATIFICATION
The fourth informational unit characterizes the degree of
social stratification of ancient societies, inasmuch as ethnographic data suggest that the social position of the deceased is
as a rule reflected in burial customs (Bendann 1930:268-72).
In the Soviet archaeological literature, this formulation of the
problem has never been disputed. The thesis that grave goods
reflect the social position of the deceased has been most concisely expounded by Masson (1976: 149-76). In the Western
archaeological literature the same point of view has been taken
by Binford (1971: 13-15) and Shennan (1974: 279-88).
Archaeologists generally take into account the influence of
social factors upon burial customs, assuming explicitly or implicitly that different burial rites in the primitive epoch reflect
not only chronological, local, or ethnic differences, but also
social features (Puvak 1972:73; Mellaart 1967:207-9; Otto
1954: 113-14; von Brunn 1953: 13-28; Fischer 1956: 243-45;
Herrmann 1965:114-19; Preuss 1962:40).
According to Kroeber (1927: 308-15), however, burial customs, being ritual activities, are unstable and do not reflect
the social structure of the society. A very similar position has
CURRENT

ANTHROPOLOGY

been taken by Ucko (1969). Pointing out that ethnographically


there is often no correlation between burial rites and social
structure, he denies the possibility of developing a reliable
methodology for reconstructing social processes in the primitive
epoch from burial complexes. According to Ucko, burial customs have misled archaeologists attempting the reconstruction
of the so'tial structure of ancient tribes (pp. 266-72). While it
is true that premature linear sociological reconstructions have
from time to time appeared in the archaeological literature,
Ucko's scepticism Is unjustified.
This ca!!!jon with !.~ar<i_to the possibility that social stratification in the primitive epoch is reflected in burial customs
may be due to the influence of Childe. In one of his works he
came to the conclusion that there are no differences In assemblages of gr~~~ -g9{>_ds t};at~~ould allow <>n_e to assess the wealth
of the deceased (Childe 11)~5: 16), Royal tombs, c!laracterized
by vast dimensions and wealth of burial inventory, were for
him an exception; in Childe's opinion, these tombs reflect the
development of royal power in early class societies. ~fhe bulk
of the burials of the primitive epoch remained . for Ch!lde
amorphous and undifferentiated. Apparently many.. liivestigators, following Childe, have either been sceptical of the
possibility of reconstructing the social structure of preclass
society on the basis of materials from burial sites or have denied
the existence of social differentiation in the primitive epoch
because, as Childe asserted, it is not reflected in grave goods.
The results of ethnographic studies refute this view; it has been
found that as a rule the burial customs of preclass societies do
reflect their social structure (Binford 1971: 13-2!\).
Unfortunatcl), the ethnographic work on these problems
has rarely been applied to archaeological studies because it
does not take into account the character of archaeological
material. The ethnographer studies living social organisms,
basing his opinions thereon upon personal observations or
analysis of data obtained from informants. He focuses on
phenomena that do not find reflection in the material culture
of the population. In describing the burials of individuals of
different social strata, he tends to concentrate on the burial
rituals, giving less attention to burial structures and almost
none to the assemblage of grave goods. The picture in archaeology is entirely different, as archaeology deals with extinct
social organisms whose structure can be decoded through
investigation of the components of their material culture.
Archaeologists obtain the greatest amount of information from
the assemblage of grave goods and the form of the burial
structure. The character of the burial rituals remains to a
considerable degree unknown and can be reconstructed only
with great difliculty. These circumstances demand specific,
purely archaeological methods of investigation of burial customs in their sociological aspect. The development of such
procedures has led to a series of synthesizing works on the
social structure of the ancient societies of the Aegean world,
northern and eastern Europe, and the Caucasus (Blavatskaya
1973:12-21; Kushnareva 1973: 11-12; Masson 1973: 102-12;
Klein 196!\:210-34; Randsborg 1974:39-57; and Renfrew
1972: 362-403).
While the assemblage of grave goods, the burial structure,
and the position of the deceased are of primary importance for
these studies, as far as possible the place of the burial within
the structure of the burial site and the ritual activities accompanying burial should also be taken into consideration. Diversity of burial customs at a burial site where all the burials fall
within a comparatively short time span is to be explained in
terms of social factors if it can be shown that the burial ground
was left by a population of uniform culture in whose burial
customs there is no reliable trace of infiltration by imported
ethnic elements and if all differences relating to the age and sex
of the deceased have first been identified. The most important
sign of possible social stratification of an ancient society is the

Vol. 24 No.2 April1983

A/ekshin:

BURIAL CUSTOMS

presence of several groups of burials characterized by assemblages of grave goods that are far from equivalent as property.
For sociological reconstruc.tions it is necessary to draw upon
ali excavated burials at a site. The validity oi this P<>sition is
confirmed-bY the unsuccessful attempt at sociological interpretation of the Hallstatt burial site of Kroemer (1958:39-58).
Working with 44 burials of adults and 52 burials of children,
Kroemer reconstructed the social structure of Hallstatt society.
His conclusions, which were not supported by analysis of all
the data available (about 2,000 burials have been excavated at
the Hallstatt site), were subjected to sharp and justified
criticism by Hausler (1968:3-25).
For each__a~e anc:l_ sex_ category of deceased, the standard
assemblage of grave goods which constitutes the norm for the
given group of burials should be e~tablished. If only standard
<lSScmblages_<>f grave _goods are foun~ at
burial site, then
either there was no social differentiation in the society or
it was not reflected in burial customs. It should be pointed out
that within each age and sex category there may turn out to
be several types of standard burial inventory.
The presence of burials lacking grave goods alongside
burials having standard grave-goods assemblages does not
attest to social differentiation; the same goes for the presence
of burials in which grave-goods assemblages are poorer than
the standard, which may be due to poor preservation of goods
or to the cause of death. Nor docs the existence of wealthy
burials necessarily indicate the presence of social differentiation. Wealthy burials of children may occur for special religious reasons not directly related to social stratification
(Hausler 1966:38-42), and wealthy burials of women may
attest to the presence of sex and age classes. Social stratification
of a society is reflected first and foremost-in-tile -,~calth of
burialS- ofmcn~ 'therefore, burialS o( men that are richer in
grave goods than the standard may be indicative of social
differentiation. The presence of such burials in which the
form of the burial structure differs from the customary one
indisputably attests to such differentiation.
It is not always possible to detect a standard assemblage of
_grave goods in--burials. It "is i-lossible that in the early stages of
_development of the tribal system, burial customs were less
standardized, apparently because of the greater influence of
ideology on the burial rite in co-mparison with purely social
factors.
The criteria for wealth of grave-goods assemblages depend
on the particular historical situation; there are no universal
criteria applicable to all archaeological epochs. Methods of
assessing the wealth of grave-goods assemblages, however, can
and should be unified and universal. Burials with identical
standard grave-goods assemblages (e.g., with vessels) should
be compared in wealth first and then burials with different
standard grave-goods assemblages (e.g., with weapons and
with tools).
There are several methods for assessing the wealth of gravegoods assemblages. The first of these considers the number of
objects found in a grave: the more objects found in a burial,
the richer it is (Kruglov and Podgaetskii 1935:40--41, 157-58).
A second method considers the number of types of ~jects in a
burial: the more types of objects are represented in a grave,
the richer it is (Renfrew 1972:371). A third method considers the frequency of the objects in assemblages of grave
goods: the more rarely an assemblage of grave goods is encountered, the richer it is (Kurochkin 1970: 18-20). All of
these methods have one significant shortcoming: they do not
take into account the materials of which the objects are made.
In practice this can lead to a situation in which burials with a
large number of flint and bone weapons will be regarded as
richer than burials with metal articles if the number of the

141

latter exceeds that of the former (first method), a burial with


a golden vessel will be considered poorer than a burial containing a pottery vessel and a bronze bracelet (second method),
or a wooden plate found in a single case will be more valuable
than bronze ware encountered more frequently (third method).
The first two methods can only be used to compare the qualitatively similar assemblages of grave goods which in the main
are characteristic of the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. They are not applicable to later archaeological epochs
in which grave-goods assemblages become considerably more
diverse. The rare occurrence of certain articles made of cheap
materials (pinheads, figurines, rods, and seals) does not imply
their great value, but serves as an indicator of the deceased's
special status.
Another method of evaluating the wealth of grave-goods
assemblages considers the degree of saturation with metal
articles in terms of their numbers (Otto 1955:61-{)3) or their
weight (Randsborg 1974:45-47). Thus, only part of an assemblage is evaluated as to quantity and quality. This method can
hardly be applicable on a broad scale. For example, in the
Aeneolithic women's burials contain more metal than men's
because of their ornaments. This does not mean, however, that
burials of women are richer than those of men; instead it
reflects sex distinctions. For the Bronze and Iron Ages, the
wealth of grave-goods assemblages can be assessed in terms
of the number of metal articles in a grave provided that two
refinements are made. First, as Klein (1968: 217-18) has pointed
out, the whole assemblage of grave goods has to be considered.
Second, it is necessary to consider whether the metal is copper,
silver, or gold and the particular type of metal object compared, whether it be weapons, tools, seals, or utensils. Burials
containing unique objects of gold, silver, electrum, and bronze
(ceremonial weapons or utensils, symbols of power) will be
judged richer than burials in which metal articles take the
form of common, ordinary products, and the latter burials in
turn will be judged richer than graves in which metal objects
are lacking. With this method it is possible to compare qualitatively dissimilar assemblages of grave goods from the Bronze
and Iron Ages .. Comparison of burials in terms of wealth
should be carried out within the framework of a common
chronological horizon. Identif1ed poor, standard, and wealthy
burials constitute a source for sociological reconstructions.
Investigations of the social differentiation of ancient societies
should be accompanied by functional analysis of the composition of grave-goods assemblages. Through this analysis it is
possible to identify burials of warriors, craftsmen, traders,
priests, nobles, chiefs, or kings, provided that the distinctive
features of their activities are reflected in their grave goods.
More complicated is the matter of the burial of slaves, for the
absence of goods in a grave by no means always indicates a
lack of full and equal status for the deceased. It is possible
that slaves were buried in special cemeteries.
When reconstructing the social structure of ancient societies,
it is necessary to employ the terminology developed by ethnographers, although where possible (in early class societies) one
should use the terminology of written sources, which more
accurately reflects the social hierarchy of the first state formations. The application of this procedure to the investigation of
burials of ancient farmers has made it possible to identify the
process of development of social differentiation in early agricultural societies.
Analysis of burials of the 8th to 6th millennia B.C. has
shown that evidence of property inequality (poor and rich
graves) is available only for Asia Minor (<;;:atal Hiiyiik)' It is
'Because of the limited length of this article, references to published catalogs of burials have been omitted. A detailed bibliography
on the majority of the burials mentioned herein can be found in
Hrouda (1971). Readers interested in the burials found in the
U.S.S.R. may write me for references.
142

unclear to what extent this property inequality corresponds. to


social inequality, as there has been no complete publication of
data from the site. Only one thing is certain: the presence of
poor and rich families in the community at <;;:atal Htiytik is
a natural consequence of the Neolithic revolution, which
opened up opportunities for the acquisition of a surplus product.
From the 5th to the beginning of the 3d millennium B.c.,
property stratification of the population is characteristic of
all ancient agricultural regions, but differences in the wealth
of grave-goods assemblages are still not large: in poor burials
there are none, while in rich ones there are three or in rare
cases four or five types of objects. In places where the level of
development of productive forces and the level of material
welfare of the ancient agricultural communities are high,
burials with standard grave-goods assemblages predominate
(Mesopotamia). In places where the level of development of
agriculture is not high and the amount of surplus product
obtained is insignificant (Central Asia, Iran, Asia Minor),
many poor (lacking in grave goods) burials are found in addition to standard graves. The insignificant number of rich
burials attests to the preservation in ancient agricultural communities at the given stage of development of a productive
economy of traditions of equalizing the distribution of the
surplus product, which retard the process of property stratification of their members.
The burial customs of this period contain information on
the social structure of ancient agricultural societies. The bulk
of graves arc those of rank-and-file community members. In
these burials arc found pottery, beads, stone bracelets, copper
ornaments, and tools. In several cases graves have been found
which may tentatively be considered to belong to priests
(Tell es-Sawwan, Karatepe) and to chiefs or elders (Can Hasan,
Yarim Tepe II, Samarra). Female figurines evidently depicting
a fertility god have been found in the priests' graves. Symbols of
power-stone or copper maceheads-are represented in burials
of chiefs. Although all of these tombs contain rich grave-goods
assemblages, they differ from burials of rank-and-file community members not so much in the wealth of their grave goods
as in the presence of special categories of objects (female
figurines, maceheads).
Commencing at the end of the 4th millennium B.C. in Mesopotamia and in the second half of the 3d millennium B.C. in
Central Asia, Iran, and Asia Minor, the process of property
and social stratification of the population proceeds at a more
rapid rate. The number of rich burials and the number of
types of objects represented in them increase. The number of
poor burials depends upon the level of development of the
productive forces of ancient agricultural societies. Thus, in
Central Asia, situated on the periphery of the ancient agricultural world, poor burials predominate, while in Mesopotamia, as before, graves with standard assemblages of grave
goods predominate. The social structure of ancient agricultural
communities becomes considerably more complex, as is everywhere indicated by burials containing seals, symbols of power,
religious objects, and so on.
Analysis of Bronze Age burials in southern Turkmenia
(Namazga IV-V) indicates the presence of three groups in the
population of the agricultural communities of this period. One
of them is made up of persons with less than full and equal
status in the community, apparently attesting to the development of patriarchal slavery. This group includes isolated
burials without grave-goods assemblages characterized by a
high degree of contraction in the posture of the deceased. A
second group is made up of ordinary community members.
Variations in the grave-goods assemblages in their illfl ves,
which indicate property stratification of this group, make it possible to identify burials of the poor (single or collective graves
without accessories in which the deceased lie in the position of
a sleeping person) and the more prosperous (burials with
vessels or with vessels and ornaments). A third group consists
CURRENT

ANTHROPOLOGY

of a small aristocracy, including chiefs, priests of various ranks,


and, possibly, warriors (burials containing seals, weapons, rods,
female figurines, gold ornaments, and religious objects). The
burials of this group (Altintepe, Ulugtepe), which have functionally variegated grave-goods assemblages, indicate a hierarchy of social ranks within the aristocracy.
The same groups are also characteristic of Iran, but here the
process of property and social stratification of the population
is manifested more vividly (Hissar II-III, Sialk III-IV, Hurab,
Tureng Tepe) in rich graves of chiefs and priests (Hissar III,
Hurab) with seals, religious objects, symbols oi power, and
golden ornaments.
In Asia Minor the richest burials are those in stone cists,
which apparently contain the remains of persons of high social
rank (Ahlatlibel, Alisar, Kosumbeli, Karavaysan, Tilmen
Hiiyiik, Gedikli). Poor burials in pits and vessels obviously
belong to ordinary community members. Especially wealthy
tombs (Korucutepe, Karatas-Semayk) probably contain the
remains of chiefs.
Graves containing seals, weapons, and symbols of power
(maceheads) are also known in Mesopotamia (Gawra, Ur) in
the Late Ubaidian and Early Uruk.
Burials with battle weapons merit special attention. In the
period under consideration they are encountered in all regions
of ancient agricultural societies. However, their number is so
small (of 1,400 burials of this period examined, 48 graves have
weapons; graves of western Anatolia and the mountainous
Luristan region have not been counted here, as detailed publication of sites excavated there is lacking) that we cannot speak
of the formation of a stratum of professional warriors in ancient
agricultural societies in the pre-state period. Two things could
have prevented the emergence of warriors among early agriculturists of the Near East in the pre-state period. First, the
capture of the principal means of production-land-was
fraught with difficulty and would have required large contingents of warriors, which society did not yet possess, to
secure it. Second, the high degree of social stratification of
early agricultural communities indicated by the data from
burials, even in the pre-state period, facilitated substantial
exploitation of community members by the aristocracv, which
provided it with the opportunity to obtain a substantia-l surplus
product without resorting to predatory wars.
In the epoch of early class society in 1\Iesopotamia (Early
Dynastic I-III) we can identify seven groups of burials:
(1) devoid of grave goods; (2) containing vessels; (3) containing
ornaments; (4) containing seals; (5) containing weapons;
(6) containing seals and weapons; and (7) containing tools.
The richest burial complexes contain weapons and seals. Next
in terms of wealth are graves containing weapons, followed by
graves containing seals. These three groups of burials, judging
by the composition of the grave-goods assemblage and its
wealth, belonged to the elite. Graves with seals and weapons
probably belonged to representatives of the military-bureaucratic apparatus (military commanders, officials) and possibly
also the upper stratum of merchants. Burials containing seals
apparently belonged to lesser officials and heads of large-family
communities managed as family property. Tombs containing
vessels, ornaments, or tools are poor. Evidently these are
burials of city dwellers of different levels of prosperity and
those of craftsmen. The process of property stratification of
the population of ancient Sumer is characterized by a sharp
reduction in the number of tombs containing standard gravegoods assemblages and an increase in the number first of poor
and next of rich graves.
In this epoch the number of burials including weapons increases sharply; roughly every third burial contains them.
Thus, for this period it is possible to speak of the presence o~
a group of professional warriors. Their appearance was dictated primarily by the antagonistic contradictions of early
class society. The ruling class needed warriors to maintain its

Vol. 24 No .. 2 Apri/1983

Alekshin:

BURIAL CUSTOMS

power to exploit the rank and file. At the same time, there
were predatory wars between city-states and repeated attacks
on Mesopotamia by hostile mountain tribes.
Burials of the epoch of early class society in Asia Minor
(Karum Kanesh) are characterized by both poor and rich
burials. Particularly rich are cist burials which contain weights
and seals and are apparently those of merchants.
The process of emergence of an upper military-bureaucratic
layer of society was accompanied by a setting apart of an
aristocratic elite. The appearance of tombs of aristocrats in the
Near East dates to the 3d millennium B.c. The richest of these
are the pit tombs of Ur, which can be divided into three
groups. In tombs of the first type (Nos. 800, 1050, 1054, and
580) the main burial is always that of a woman, apparently a
supreme priestess or the wife of a king. In tombs of the second
type (Nos. 777, 779, and 1236), the main burial is always
double, judging from sepulchre No. 777 that of a man and a
woman. !Host likely these are burials of the kings of Ur and
their wives or concubines. Tombs of the third type (Nos.
1618, 1631, and 1648) are poorer and lack seals bearing the
names of their owners. It is possible that the persons buried in
them were not of royal rank. Either these sepulchres contain
representatives of lateral branches of the ruling family or they
represent burials of the urban aristocracy of Ur.
In northern Svria a rich tomb has been excavated at Til
Barsib; here, judging by the grave-goods assemblage (eight
axes, nine daggers, and six spears), a military leader or tribal
chief was buried.
In Asia Minor, rich burials of aristocrats have been excavated
in Central Anatolia (Alaca Hiiyiik, Horoztepe). In their tombs
were gold and silver utensils, weapons, ornaments, religious
objects (figurines of oxen or deer), and symbols of power
(standards with zoomorphic or geometric patterns). The
absence in these graves of seals with inscriptions, chariots, and
human sacrifices suggests that they are not royal sepulchres.
They probably contain burials of leader-priests.
Burials of aristocrats have not been discovered in Iran and
Central Asia. There, collective burials of members of particularly wealthy families have been found (Altintepe, the "burned
building" at Hissar). The rite of burial was characterized by
successive transfers of the deceased through a series of rooms,
accompanied by corresponding ceremonies, the ritual continuing for a long period of time. Thus the burials of members
of wealthy families here are distinguished not by a special
form of burial structure or by wealth of grave-goods assemblages (although to some extent this latter plays a part), but
by elaboration of the burial ceremony, the religious ritual.
The usc of complex burial ceremonies to mark the special
status of the deceased is an avenue open to a society in which
the level of development of productive forces is low and the
possibility of accumulating wealth in the hands of individual
families is limited.

MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY


The fifth informational unit enables us to trace the evolution
of forms of marriage and the family in primitive societies. A
number of special studies have recently been devoted to this
complex problem (Itina 1977 :211-29; Mandel'shtam 1968:11922; Sorokin 1962:89-123). For the study of the history of the
family it is essential to subject double, triple, and collective
burials to special analysis. It is especially importatit here to
establish the horizontal and vertical stratigraphy in a burial
complex as elaborate as the mound (kurgan) and the sequence
or simultaneity of burials in cases of double, triple, and collective burial. Their evolution over time provides the potential
for tracing the main trends of development of forms of the
143

family in the primitive epoch. From my point of view, kinship


within a family cannot be fully reconstructed on the basis of
data on burial customs; it is also necessary to reconstruct the
horizontal stratigraphy of burial grounds in which the dead
were apparently buried in accordance with family or tribal
characteristics.
In order to investigate the problem of forms of marriage in
the primitive epoch it is necessary to establish the presence in
the burial site of "outsiders," whose appearance can most
often be explained in terms of marital contacts with neighboring communities. In the study of this problem, the ritual
component of the standard burial rite is of decisive importance.
Deviations from the traditional ritual are readily detected in
archaeological data and can be considered indications of the
burial in a single site of members of different tribes, members
of the nucleus of the community being buried in accordance
with their own traditional ritual and outsiders (both men and
women) in accordance with the norms prevailing in their
homeland, sometimes, however, very significantly affected by
the local norms. The burial of outsiders in a community cemetery is possible only when there are steady contacts between
different communities. This is determined first and foremost
by the need to regularize norms of marriage and family relations in primitive collectives. The absence of such burials
indicates that we are dealing with a tribal burial ground.
Analysis of gradations of age and sex in burials of outsiders in
community burial sites can throw light on the forms of marriage existing in the primitive epoch.
On the basis of the foregoing, we can establish relationship
by marriage for persons buried in double, triple, and collective
burials. If study of these burials reveals a mixture of ritual
features of two standard burial rites characteristic of two different burial grounds, then most often these graves contain
persons of two different tribes who are probably related by
marriage. If such a mixture of ritual features is absent, it is
more reasonable to assume that the burial is of members of the
same tribe. possibly close blood rela tivcs whose degree of consanguinity is most often impossible to determine. For example,
in the Mesolithic burial ground at Teviec, France, there is a
series of burials characterized by significant deviations from
the standard burial rite. To begin with, such deviations arc
found in burials containing deer antlers, A and D (table 1). In
the opinion of the excavators, the deceased were buried in
these graves in a sitting position beneath a frame made of deer

antlers which, interlocked, formed a hut over the body, the


presence of deer antlers-the symbol of the tribal totem-indicating the high social rank of the deceased (Pequart et al.
1937:28-32, 36-39, 62--65). Detailed analysis of the burials
shows that deer antlers are also found in Burial K, but by and
large the placing of deer antlers in graves is not characteristic
of Teviec. The conjecture that the deceased in Burials A and
D were buried beneath a deer antler "hut" arose not in the
field, but in the study, as a result of analysis of photographs
and sketches (Pequart and PC quart 1954: 79). However, the
photographs do not substantiate this conjecture; judging from
them, some an tiers had been placed under the head of the
deceased and some around his head. Thus, even for the excavators, "huts" of deer antler erected over the deceased were
not a fact established indisputably during the course of the
excavations.
When similar burials were unearthed at Hoedic, 30 km from
Teviec, they were interpreted as burials in which deer antlers
were placed near the deceased. For Hoedic, this custom was
the norm (table 1). Deer antlers found in graves were considered to be either offerings or tools. Originally the investigators indicated that at Teviec the deer antlers were offerings
(Pequart et al. 1937: 62--65), but later they were compelled
to recognize that some finds of antlers in Teviec graves could
be regarded as tools (Pequart and Pequart 1954: 70-72); in
Burial K at Tevicc (Skeleton No. 6) two small tools of deer
antler were found. Offerings and tools of deer antler positioned
in the same manner as in the graves at Hocdic can be identified
in Burials A and D at Tcviec.
I suggest, therefore, that Burials A and D at Teviec arc
burials of persons from the community which left its burial
ground at Hoedic. In the burial customs of these two graves,
characteristic features of the standard burial customs of
Teviec and Hoedic are mixed (table 1). If this hypothesis is
correct, three corollaries follow therefrom: (I) Other features
of the standard burial rite at !Ioedic should appear in Burials
A and D at Teviec. (2) In the Tcviec burial ground, other
graves containing former inhabitants of Hocdic may be discovered. (3) At Hoedic there should be burials of former
inhabitants of Tcviec exhibiting features of the standard burial
customs characteristic of Tcviec.
First, a number of additional characteristic Hoedic features
can indeed be traced in the burial customs of Teviec Burials
A and D. These include lining of the edges of the burial pit

TABLE I
BuRIALS AT TEVIEC AND HoitDIC SHOWING DEVIATIONS FROM THE STANDARD BURIAL
RITE OF EACH IN THE DIRECTION OF THE OTHER
BURIALS
Hocdic

TCviec

D
(F, 20--25,
FEATURES OF THE STANDARD BUIUAL RITE

+ inf.)

A
(M,
20--25)

B
(M,
20--30)

Kl
(M,
20--30)

B
(F,
20-25)

(F,
30-40)

(M,
20--30)

(M,
20--25)

(inf.)

+
+

+
+
+
+
+

TCviec

Covering of grave with stone slab ....... .


Ritual hearth over grave. . .
. .............. .
Offering of mandible of wild boar or deer .............. .
Offering of deer antlers over grave in ritual hearth ... .
Fire over grave after burial. .
Ochre in grave ............ .
Hoedic
Covering of grave with several stone slabs .. .
Lining of edge of pit with stones ........... .

Offering of deer antlers in grave .... .


Offering of mandible of wild boar or deer .............. .
Tools of deer antler in grave...
. .............. .

+
+
+
+
+
+

+
+
+

+
+
+

SouRcEs: Pequart et al. (1937), Pcquart and Pequart (1954).


a Here we are concerned only with the secondary burial of a man, the disturbed previous burial of a woman displaying no HoCdic features.
144

CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY

with small stones laid flat, the absence of a surface structure


over the grave, and the placement of offerings in the grave.
Second, Hoedic features are indeed found in Burial K at
Teviec. It is a collective burial; for each new burial the tomb
was uncovered, the ritual hearth cleaned out, ritual offerings
placed in the tomb, the new body buried, the tomb closed, the
ritual hearth constructed anew, and the whole construction
covered with a structure. During excavations of this tomb,
ritual offerings-deer antlers (a Hoedic feature)-were found
in the ritual hearth (a Teviec feature). This offering belonged
to Skeleton No. 1 (a man), who had been buried last. Beside
him in the grave lay one more piece of deer antler (a Hoedic
feature). Evidently an outsider from Hoedic was also buried in
Burial K.
Finally, the Hoedic burial ground does contain burials with
Teviec features. The grave of a woman, Burial B, lacks the
Hoedic offerings of deer antlers, instead containing the mandible
of a wild boar (a Teviec feature). After burial a ritual hearth,
soon extinguished, had been built over the grave (a Teviec
feature). The excavators concluded from this that Burial B is
of a woman from Teviec (Pequart and Pequart 1954). Burial
K, which contains the body of a man aged 20-25, deviates
from the standard burial rite of Hocdic in that the tomb is
covered by a single stone slab on which a fire had burned for a
short time and offerings of deer antler had been placed in a
ritual hearth, all features characteristic of the standard burial
rite of Teviec.
Therefore all three corollaries of my hypothesis are confirmed by the data, thereby substantiating the hypothesis
itself. Thus, there were continual contacts bet ween the collectives of persons living at Tcvicc and Hocdic. At Tevicc
three natives of Hoedic have been discovered: a woman of
20-25 (Burial D), and two men, 20-25 and 20-30 years of age
(Burials A and K). At Hoedic, two natives of Tcviec have
been found: a woman of 20-25 (Burial B) and a man of 20-25
(Burial K). It is probable that each collective consisted of a
basic nucleus of members (apparently blood relatives) and
some outsiders. \\'hen an outsider died, features of the local
burial ritual mingled with those traditional in his home community in the rites accompanying his burial.
This suggests that other outsiders from the collective to
which he once belonged were present within the given collective. In ethnography, a production collective of persons consisting of a basic nucleus of related people and a certain number
of outsiders is called a commune. Consequently, archaeological
data support the position that in the Stone Age the fundamental
production unit was the commune (Grigor'ev 1972: 24; Kabo
1972:59; Butinov 1968: 110--11).
Yet another aspect of this informational unit should be
pointed out. When studying the burial customs of any archaeological culture, it is possible, on the basis of variations therein
(e.g., rituals, methods of placement of accessories in graves),
to identify collectives of people (tribes or communes) which
have similar burial customs, possibly suggesting identity of
origin, shared history, and to some degree ethnic identity.

DEMOGRAPHIC FEATURES
The sixth informational unit pertains to certain demographic
aspects of the life of people in ancient times: life expectancy,
causes of death, diseases, injuries, and changes in stature. It
should not be overlooked that the causes and circumstances of
death were of great importance in ancient times, frequently
determining even the nature of the burial rite (Schwidetzky
1965: 230-47). I concur with Schwidetzky in regarding the
reconstruction of ancient population figures as impossible, at
least in terms of the present-day capabilities of our science.

Vol. 24 No.2 April1983

Alekshin:

BURIAL CUSTOMS.

CONCLUSION
Such is the extent of the information potentially contained in
burial customs. In order to extract this information, burials
have to be excavated in accordance with contemporary field
methodology, with careful recording of all the nuances of
funerary ceremonial. The chronological and cultural attribution and the vertical and horizontal stratigraphy should be
established for all excavated burial grounds. Skeletal material
should be analyzed by an anthropologist. Destroyed and
plundered burials should not be ignored. All such data must
be carefully analyzed so as to obtain whatever information has
been preserved therein.

Comments
by BRAD BARTEL

Department of Antltropology, San Diego State University, San


Diego, Calif. 92182, U.S.A. 11 x 82
Alekshin's article is nothing more than a fairly simplistic but
commonsense approach to the archaeological study of burial.
There have been more detailed and illustrative treatments of
the subject prior to this (e.g., Binford 1971, Saxe 1970, Ucko
1969). The history of the usc of ethnological theory by archaeologists (Bartel 1982) clearly shows that they have long been
fully aware of these concerns and of Alckshin's "informational
units." Some of my major disagreements with Alckshin are
as follows:
I. I see great danger in making behavioral interpretations
solely on the basis of information from cemeteries or isolated
graves, without information derived from a settlement of the
same archaeological culture. The structural symbolism of life/
death expressed in artifacts and the spatial location and orientation of the cemetery versus the settlement arc_ critical to the
confirmation of the behaviors discussed by Alekshin (e.g.,
Levi-Strauss 1963:138, De Coppct 1970).
2. Alckshin makes onlv minimal comments about the utility
of osteological analysis. Recent studies (Bartel 1981, Lane and
Sublett 1972) have shown how the skeletal material may be
analyzed to help confirm hypotheses about ethnicity, endogamy, and residence patterns.
3. Alckshin's strong reliance upon a Marxist model of culture
change, especially in his understanding of early agricultural
societies, and his usc of such terms as "social regression,"
"stages of development," and "survival of archaic stages" have
a stifling effect on whatever legitimate understanding he has
about the situa lion for western Asia. For example, his logic
of correlating isolated burials without grave goods in a contracted position with slavery totally escapes me.
4. To be complete, Alekshin's "second informational unit"
needs a discussion of the conservative nature of corpse disposal
and the relationship between acculturation and the likelihood
of culture change.
5. The site of Catal Hiiyiik, which he uses for much of his
discussion of status and stratification, can be employed for
this purpose only with considerable caution. No sampling
strategy was employed by the excavator, and the total excavated area represents probably less than I% of the total
mound accumulation. In fact, almost all the archaeological
sites mentioned by Alekshin were excavated between the 1930s
and 1960s without systematic sampling strategies and differential recovery techniques. To use these sites as illustrative
examples for concrete interpretations of social behaviors is
dangerous.
6. His postulated change to higher male status during the
145

Early Bronze Age of western Asia is not supported everywhere


in the region. The Early Bronze Age 1-2 periods of western
Turkey do not exhibit strong male versus female divisions,
although there do seem to be overall changes toward a greater
degree of social stratification when compared with Neolithic
Turkey (Bartel n.d.).
by

ALEXANDER

B.

DOLITSKY

Department of Anthropology, Brown University, Providence,


R.I. 02912, U.S.A. 2 x 82
Burial sites are among the significant archaeological sites for
the analysis of social networks and the chronological reconstruction of human societies. Generally, burials have been
morphologically typed as pyramids, mausoleums, burial vaults,
sarcophagi, ums, above-ground burials (for example, platform),
flat (surface) underground burials, earth or stane mounds (kurgans), etc. The last two types, on which Alekshin probably
focused his paper, are the best-known and most extensively
studied in Eurasia. Kurgans may be easily found by archaeologists, since they are topographically visible within a steppe
ecozone. Unfortunately, most kurgans (especially the large ones)
have been disturbed by natural physical processes or warfare
or simply robbed by the local population. These factors should
always be taken into account in the analysis of archaeological
data derived from the burial sites. Flat underground burials
are almost always well preserved, but they are extremely difficult to find; usually, finding them is a matter of archaeological luck.
Alekshin's article addresses the interesting problem of the
reconstruction of social systems on the basis of an analysis of
burial practices. The author proposes to consider six informational units for reconstructing the social structure of a given
society in the historico-particular context. I would like to concentrate attention on two of these.
The second informational unit considers problems of so
called cultural genesis. This term appears very often in the
Soviet archaeological literature, and methodologically it is
relevant to what in the Western social sciences is called longterm human adaptation or evolution. It seems to me that
Western readers may be confused in reading this section, since
some terms (such as cultural genesis, succession, archaeological
culture, genetic line) are not yet well defined in Soviet archaeological science. Also in this section, the author makes some
ambiguous philosophical statements concerning social or cultural change. Alekshin states that the formation of a "new"
archaeological culture is the result of social and economic
contacts between neighboring cultural traditions. I would suggest that social and economic contacts between two or more
cultural traditions may stimulate cultural change rather than
create a "new" culture. For example, the centuries-long relations between the Scythians and the Greek city-states on the
Black Sea coast were so close that special Greek goldsmith
shops on the Bosporus and in Olbia worked just for Scythian
customers. However, this social and economic contact did not
produce a new culture; both were replaced by militarily superior
nomadic tribes from Eurasia (Leskov 1972; V. Lapin, personal
communication, 1972).
The fourth informational unit examines social stratification
within ancient societies. Alekshin argues that burial rites may
reflect social stratification in pre-class societies as well as state
societies and that archaeologically this information is to be
obtained from functional analysis of grave-goods assemblages
in order to identify the social status and occupation of the
deceased (warriors, craftsmen, traders, chiefs, etc.). This approach suggests an informal revision by Alekshin of some
traditional concepts of historical materialist philosophy. Preclass or pre-state society entirely Jacked social hierarchy other
than the biological ones of age and sex, and these ~ncient
people were primitive communists of necessity rather than by

146

choice. In order to improve the method of analysis proposed


for this informational unit, more specific archaeological and
ethnographic data should be investigated.
Summarizing this article as an archaeologist with field and
laboratory experience in the Soviet Union (Ukraine and Soviet
Central Asia), I suggest that some aspects of the social network and general chronology may be derived from burial
analysis, but it is still unclear what such analysis can tell us
specifically about prehistoric demography, the evolution of the
extended family, and even social stratification within complex
societies. How, for instance, can Alekshin's models be applied
to the analysis of the above-ground burials found in the taiga
ecozone of Siberia, the Far East, and North America (Gurvich
1981)? Also, it would be interesting to see the outcome of this
approach if ethnographic and historic sources were used in
more detail. I am surprised that Alekshin has ignored the contributions to the methodology of burial excavations and data
interpretation of Uvarov, in the 19th century, and, more
recently, Gorodtsov (1905, 1907), Leskov (1%8, 1972), Merpert
(1968), Chernenko (1981), Mozolevs'kiy (1979), and others.
While Alekshin's article has some unconvincing aspects and
is too circumscribed to put into practice, one positive feature
is the extensive interest in the methodology and philosophy of
archaeology, a characteristic of the contemporary Soviet
archaeological literature that may be a result of Soviet-American scientific cooperation in the past ten years.
by

ANTONIO GILMAN

Department of Anthropology, Calzfomia State Uni!,ersity,


Northridge, Calif. 91330, U.S.A. 21 IX 82
Alekshin gives examples of "informational units" on six aspects
of extinct social systems-religious beliefs, cultural origin and
afllliation, age and sex distinctions, class and occupational distinctions, forms of marriage and group composition, and demography-which can be obtained from analysis of prehistoric
burials. These interpretive dimensions are unquestionable, but
the author should emphasize more strongly that, as sources of
information, burial practices are ambiguous if they are not
situated in a broader context of archaeological interpretation.
The question is not whether mortuary patterns are determined
by the factors Alekshin mentions, but how one can judge that
a particular variable in mortuary practice is determined by a
particular factor. Because burial patterns are symbolic (not
representative) of the social and ritual order, one can only
interpret them by considering their range of variability and
contrast against other information concerning the extinct societies under study.
Alekshin's concrete examples are persuasive to the degree
that his interpretations are confirmed by other, nonmortuary
evidence. The change in relative wealth between burials of men
and women from the 7th to the 3d millennium B.C. in the Near
East is interpreted as reflecting the "development of patriarchal
relations." This seems plausible, not because of the change
noted in the burials themselves (a change which might have
other explanations), but because the shift is associated (as we
know from other evidence) with the development of social and
political institutions in which men (but not women) played
dominant roles. The shift in mortuary patterns in Turkmenia
from Namazga V to VI is explained as the result of an immigration from Uzbekistan. This is less persuasive, not because
ethnic migrations do not occur or would not produce changes
in burial practices, but because independent evidence is not
brought to bear to rule out alternative explanations, such as a
change in religious belief ("Informational Unit 1"). The HoedicTeviec discussion is also somewhat unconvincing. This is partly
because the number of burials at each site is too small for convincing norms to be established for each, but partly also because
other explanations of the contrasts cannot be excluded. Alekshin
interprets the limited overlap in the detail of burial practices
CURRENT

ANTHROPOLOGY

between the two sites as the result of an exchange of a few


individuals between two separate communities. But if one site
were slightly earlier or later than the other, that burial norms
exhibit only partial overlap could be explained as a result of a
change in ritual over time. Even differences in burial rites as
easily interpreted as wealth differences (by the who-flaunts-ithas-it principle) require an external context to be meaningfully assessed.
by PHILlP L. KOHL
Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass. 02181, U.S.A. 9 x 82

Alekshin has written an interesting and informative paper summarizing ways in which past burial practices can shed light on
the nature of the societies that left them. His paper can be
appreciated on at least two levels: a summary presentation of
the results of his extensive analysis of burial evidence throughout the greater Middle East from Neolithic through Bronze Age
times, and a demonstration of the concerns and theoretical
approaches of Soviet archaeologists engaged in the interpretation of mortuary data. This response first will examine critically some of the basic assumptions which pervade Alekshin's
(and, by extension, most other Soviet archaeologists') analysis
and then discuss some of the substantive results of his study.
To Western readers unfamiliar with the Soviet archaeological
literature, Alekshin must seem a curious amalgam of the traditional archaeological pessimist and the new optimist. On the
one hand, he is skeptical of accurately estimating past populations; on the other hand, he seems to minimize the difficulties
of reconstructing the extent of stratification within a society
through the exclusive analysis of mortuary data. He categorically rejects Ucko's demonstration of an imperfect correlation
between burial rites and social structures, yet notes later: "If
only standard (i.e., relatively homogeneous) assemblages of
grave goods are found at a burial site, then either there was no
social differentiation in the society or it was uot reflected in
burial customs" (emphasis added). The point is how one
decides which alternative is operative in the absence nf am
other archaeological evidence (domestic architecture, settl~
ment patterns, etc.). I share Alekshin's skepticism about population estimates except in the most exceptional circumstances
and am willing also to accept the consensus view of most
archaeologists (cf. Gilman's perceptive rebuttal 19Rl: 17-lR)
for some roug!t correlation between burial data and social structure, but I do not believe one should minimize the difliculties
of interpreting mortuary evidence.
A perhaps more serious problem surrounds Alekshin's constant references to the identification of "archaeological cultures." While most Western archaeologists now question the
validity or, at least, emphasize the problems associated with
this concept (see Shennan 1978), Soviet scholars still reconstruct their sequences on the basis of relatively straightforward
determinations of distinct "archaeological cultures." This observation does not imply that the Soviet approach is simply
anachronistic, for it can be reasonably argued that too great an
emphasis on the diversity of cultural expressions may lead to a
form of conceptual paralysis or historical particularism which
denies the importance of past cultural distinctions and/or
refuses to consider other variables than the seemingly hard
and secure techno-demo-environmental features used to explain
cultural development (Kohl 1981). Some balance is required,
but certainly Alekshin's opposite and somewhat facile assumption that archaeological cultures can be easily recognized must
be rejected. Associated with the archaeological-culture concept
is the belief that the material record frequently changes through
the replacement of one ethnic group by another. We are told
that when there is a sharp break in the mortuary evidence, as
occurs in the southern Turkmenistan sequence between
Namazga V and Namazga VI, a new culture has arrived on
the scene. But, as every archaeologist knows, most sequences

Vol. 24 No.2 Apri/1983

Alekshin:

BURIAL CUSTOMS

exhibit features of both continuity and change, and it is rarely


clear that the most efficient explanation of the latter is the
arrival of a new group. Thus, just to cite relevant materials
from southern Turkmenistan, differences in mortuary practices
between the collective vaults of the Early Bronze cemetery at
Parkhai II and the individual Late Bronze burials at Parkhai I
and Sumbar I-II are profound, but the excavator, Khlopin
(1981), reasonably stresses aspects of continuity (e.g., the continued use of grey wares and placement of steppe-tortoise shells
in the burials) and interprets the differences as due to internal
changes within the late prehistoric society of the Middle Sumbar
Valley. Interpretations rarely are as certain as Alekshin seems
to indicate; most Western archaeologists, I believe, would
reverse Alekshin's explicitly stated procedure of first attempting
to explain diversity within a single burial site as the product of
separate archaeological cultures and subsequently interpreting
differences as due to social factors.
A second major difficulty concerns the article's implicit evolutionary assumptions. Only differences in male burials are
important, since all agree that patriarchal relations emerge with
the development of class society. Sequences that fail to fit the
expected pattern, such as the graves from Sapalli (where, it
should be noted, female burials actually are richer than their
male counterparts [Askarov 1973:136, 139]), are simply explained away by the principle of "unequal rates of development." A much more satisfactory explanation would attempt
to relate the distinctive burial rites at Sapalli and other sites
in Bactria and Margiana to peculiar structural features of
these Bronze Age societies; it is simplistic and unproductive to
regard them as retarded examples of the Mesopotamian pattern
of social stratification.
It is unfortunate that in this short article written in a
\\'estern language Alekshin did not provide more complete
tables summarizing his exhaustive analysis of Middle Eastern
burial practices. Many of his conclusions, grounded in a
thorough reexamination of the literature, are provocative and
novel. His demonstration that burials of girls were accompanied by "adult" grave goods at ages generally younger
than those of boys is significant; assuming that "adult" goods
can always be positively identified and that their presence
does not reflect specific inheritance patterns, Alekshin's interpretation that this diiTcrence reflects the social fact that girls
passed over into adulthood at an earlier age than boys is convincing. Similarly, his emphasis on the scarcity of burials
containing weapons in pre-state times and their sudden emergence as a significant type of burial good during the Early
Dynastic period is important and clearly relates to the growing
internal and external conflicts which beset Sumerian society
during its golden age. Readers unfamiliar with the Central Asian
prehistoric sequence are not likely to appreciate the novel and,
I believe, largely correct interpretation of the transition from
what has traditionally been termed the Middle Bronze
(Namazga V) to the Late Bronze (Namazga VI) period.
Southern Turkmenistan has been seen as the fans et origo of
development throughout southern Central Asia, and the Late
Bronze period has been interpreted as a period of decay or
collapse from the urban or proto-state society of Middle Bronze
times. Recent excavations in Margiana and Bactria conclusively have demonstrated that an even more complex society
in most material-culture features emerged and continued to
exist on these lowland plains after the decline of the Middle
Bronze cities along the Kopet Dagh piedmont strip of southern
Turkmenistan. Alekshin's analysis of burial remains effectively
reverses the causal arrow and argues that much of what has
been called Namazga VI actually originated in Bactria and
Margiana and moved east to west during the early 2d millennium. This view has been developed independently even further
by Francfort (1981), who argues persuasively for considerable
147

overlap between the earliest materials from Bactria and


Margiana and the so-called urban phase (Namazga V) of
southern Turkmenistan. The absence of "burials of aristocracy"
in Central Asia, the continued presence of collective burial
vaults, particularly at Altyn-depe in southern Turkmenistan,
and the elaboration of the burial ceremony at the apparent
expense of the inclusion of greater numbers of goods are all
extremelv valuable observations and should lead Alekshin and
his Sovi~t colleagues to consider the distinctive features of the
societies that clustered around separate small oases in Central
Asia in the 3d and early 2d millennia B.c.
Alekshin has written a thoughtful and important study which
should help stimulate cooperation across the political boundaries
which artificially divide the ancient Near East. His references
to the major Soviet studies of burial remains are most useful.
I do not share his optimism about the potential value of mortuary data in the total absence of other types of archaeological
information. We are all forced, however, to interpret the data
that are available, and open-minded Western scholars should
likewise ponder the limitations of their often exclusive reliance
on a single source of archaeological information, such as that
derived from extensive and equally problematic settlementpattern studies.
by D.

LIVERSAGE

National Museum, Copcnlzagcn, Denmark. 21 rx 82


Knowledge of the sorts the archaeologist seeks is provided by a
combination of sources, among which settlement archaeology
and environmental studies arc the most important. It can be
useful, however, to sit down and consider, as Alekshin does,
what the graves alone can tell us-especially as they sometimes
are the only source available.
There is one point on which one must absolutely disagree
with him. He writes, "A complete replacement of one standard
burial rite by another attests to the total disappearance of the
bearers ... which may be due to migration, military catastrophe, or epidemics." It is thus quite clear that Alekshin is thinking in terms of ethnic change. However, we know from historical
evidence that the change in northwestern Europe in the late
1st millennium A.D. from pagan burial (involving grave gods,
often cremation, sometimes sacrifice of a slave, etc.) to the
Christian rite was purely ideological and not a change of population. This may be a very obvious instance, but it is certainlv
not unique. At many other times in the prehistory of this area
there were sudden changes in burial customs, only one of which
-that coinciding with the arrival of the Single Grave/Corded
Ware culture-is thought to have an ethnic explanation. Burial
customs are an ideological area that cannot be connected with
population movements without the support of other evidence.
More interesting are the author's examples from western
Asia of the gradually increasing variety of the graves, which
undoubtedly in a broad sense reflected the growth of civilization. It is a fact that societies at a low level of development have
only rather simple graves, and not very many of them either.
Development of the society is reflected in an increasing number
of graves and in their greater diversity. The evidence can be
looked at from the point of view of matriarchy/patriarchy,
the growth of occupational specialisation, etc., but it is difficult
to make an independent check of the explanations proposed.
It is easiest to agree that rich (or "princely") graves show a
real concentration of power and surplus production in a few
hands. Unfortunately, the equation of grave richness and degree of power is not a simple one. The most amazing graves of
all were those of relatively minor kinglets in the lower Nile
Valley, and where are the graves of the mighty caesars of
imperial Rome? In this case we have nonarchaeological evidence to fall back on (in the written word) and can offer an
explanation with some confidence of being correct, but without
written evidence there is too much scope for guesswork. What
148

the grave record reflects is primarily ideology, 'and this is a


planet inaccessible to the archaeologist of which he has onl:the vaguest notion unless the spacecraft of written evidenc<
can bring him nearer. One wonders sometimes why archaeologists ask so many unanswerable questions while so many
answerable ones are left unasked.
by

CLAUDE MASSET

L.A. 275 du C.N.R.S. "Ethnologic prehistorique," College de


France, place Marcclin Berthelot, F-75231 Paris Cedcx 05,
France. 28 IX 82
Alekshin is more cautious than might have been expected
from his rather dogmatic style. His findings arc well supported
and give us an inkling of a lost sociological reality that is
usually inaccessible to archaeologists.
One wonders, however, whether he does not somewhat
exceed his premisses in saying that some girls aged 7 to 10 were
"evidently" considered marriageable. It is not true that the
"family norms of ancient agricultural communities suggest
early marriage of females": instances of late marriage are
equally well attested not only in Western Europe, where three
centuries ago country girls married at 25 on the average, but
also elsewhere. Besides, Alekshin wants us to assume for his
Sapallitepa girls a prenubile marriage, which is far from common in ethnographic records. The appearance of "adult"
grave goods in some little girls' graves shows nothing more
than their owners' ability to share the work of adults. On the
other hand, the probable. existence of an initiation for boys but
not for girls strikes me as fairly well-founded, a nice result
in itself.
I much appreciate his remarkable investigations of Tcvicc
and Hoedic burial grounds. In this connection, I consider it
necessary to specify that the ages at death estimated by Vallois
for the deceased from these sites were obtained by reference to
the observations of Todd and Lyon in 1924, a method which
gives entirely false results (McKern and Stewart 1957, BocquetAppel and .1\fasset 1982). In my opi .. :on, their true ages arc
much older.
IV. A. Alekshin's reply had not arrived by press time and will therefore appear in the next issuc.-EDITOR.]

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IBB]
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IBB)
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ANTHROPOLOGY

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d
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