Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 199–233 | Cite as

Intentional human burial: Middle Paleolithic (last glaciation) beginnings

  • Yuri Smirnov


This paper analyzes intentional burial as a historical phenomenon. Mortuary practices are viewed as a particular sphere of human activity, involving the transfer of the physical remains from one natural environment to another. The general and specific laws governing mortuary treatment and its development are discussed, and the earliest known deliberate burials—those of the Middle Paleolithic—are examined against this theoretical background. Middle Paleolithic groups invented almost all the basic ways of treating a corpse before burial and almost all the ways of burial itself. They seem to have developed a “cult of the dead,” based upon dualities such as concealment vs exposure of the body, burial of the body intact vs disarticulated, burial of the whole body vs parts of it only, and so on. It is shown that, in the Middle Paleolithic, there were centers of taphological activity, that inhumation was selectively practiced on only a small minority of the population, that men were buried much more often than women, and that the patterns of burial seem to have been independent of identifiable factors such as human physical type or level of technology.

Key Words

deliberate burial Mousterian Middle Paleolithic Early Würm Eurasia taphology mortuary complex 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yuri Smirnov
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of the Stone Age, Institute of ArchaeologyAcademy of Sciences of the USSRMoscowUSSR

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