Grave goods

Grave goods

Grave goods, in archaeology and anthropology, are the items buried along with the body.

They are usually personal possessions, supplies to smooth the deceased's journey into the afterlife or offerings to the gods. Grave goods are a type of votive deposit. Most grave goods recovered by archaeologists consist of inorganic objects such as pottery and stone and metal tools but there is evidence that organic objects that have since decayed were also placed in ancient tombs. [Ian Morris, "Death-Ritual and Social Structure in Classical Antiquity" (Cambridge, 1992; ISBN 0521376114)]

Some of the most famous and well preserved grave goods are those from ancient Egypt; there, people believed that goods buried in tombs could be used by the deceased in the afterlife. They also painted images of the deceased enjoying earthly life, working, and being in the company of family members; occasionally images of servants, called "ushabti", were placed in tombs to serve the deceased in the afterlife.

Where grave goods appear, grave robbery is a potential problem. Etruscans would scratch the word "śuθina", Etruscan for "from a tomb", on grave goods buried with the dead to discourage their reuse by the living. [Giuliano Bonfante and Larissa Bonfante "The Etruscan Language: an Introduction" (Univ. Manchester Press, 2002. ISBN 0-7190-5540-7); several examples collected] The tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun is famous because it was one of the few Egyptian tombs that had not been thoroughly looted (prior to its discovery by Carter, that is).

Ceremonies dedicating goods to the use of the dead are still practiced in some cultures today. Some East Asian peoples offer what are popularly known in English as "Hell Bank Notes" to the dead, believing that by burning these offerings of money, it will become available for the deceased to spend.

Analysis of the grave goods

The first stage analysis of the grave goods, helps determine: country, people, the society type, the town, cemeteries, etc., basically the sociological setting of the society. Even the 'cemeteries', or burials, and grave goods of a small 'suburb' of a town, may help determine the small society, mix of people and that subgroup's relationship with other countries, or peoples. Grave goods are often a reliable indicator of relative social status; archaeologists have compared the apparent workmanship, quantity, and costs of grave goods with the skeletal remains of the people buried in the tomb. Forensic indicators that can be read from the human remains tend to show that, while wealthy tombs had a roughly equal incidence of contagious and hereditary disease as lower status individuals, the tombs of the wealthy indicated substantially less evidence of biological stress during adulthood, with fewer broken bones or signs of hard labor. [John Robb 1 *, Renzo Bigazzi, Luca Lazzarini, Caterina Scarsini, Fiorenza Sonego, "Social status and biological status: A comparison of grave goods and skeletal indicators from Pontecagnano", in "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", vol. 115, no. 3, pp. 213-222 (2001)]

A second stage study helps understand where some of the grave goods originated. For example, gold, silver, jewelry, ornaments, tools, etc., all items of "workmanship", have their provenance (origin) determined, and then the time frame boundaries set. The provenance of some 'grave goods' may only be guesses, since some of the most "interesting, spectacular, and unique items" have been buried there. An example from early 3rd millennium BC, is a flat disk, with a hole in the middle for a spindle, and possibly intended to be spun like a "top". (Found with a group of disks, in one "hunting" room, a multiple room mastaba.) Made of steatite, with scenes carved, its provenance can only be guessed. It was found in the mastaba of an Egyptian official named Hemaka. Since grave robbery was so common in Egypt, it may have come from a "previous" grave owner.


ee also

*Grave field

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