Intentional human burial: Middle Paleolithic (last glaciation) beginnings

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Alexeyev, V. P. (1976). Position of the Staroselye find in the hominid system.Journal of Human Evolution 5: 413–421.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Arensburg, B., Bar-Yosef, O., Chech, M., Goldberg, P., Laville, H., Meignen, L., Rak, Y., Tchernov, E., Tillier, A.-M., and Vandermeersch, B. (1985). Une sépulture néandertalienne dans la grotte de Kébara (Israël).Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences 300: 227–230.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bar-Yosef, O., Laville, H., Meignen, L., Tillier, A.-M., Vandermeersh, B., Arensberg, B., Belfer-Cohen, A., Goldberg, P., Rak, Y., and Tchernov, E. (1989). La sépulture de Kébara, Mont Carmel, Israël. In Otte, M. (ed.),L'homme de Néandertal 5. La Pensée, Université de Liège, Liège.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bergounioux, F. M. (1958). “Spiritualité” de l'homme de Néandertal. In von Koenigswald, G. H. R. (ed.),Hundert Jahre Neanderthaler, Kemink en Zoon, Utrecht, pp. 151–166.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Binford, S. R. (1968). A structural comparison of disposal of the dead in the Mousterian and the Upper Paleolithic.Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 24: 139–154.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Blanc, A. C. (1958). Torre in Pietra, Saccopastore, Monte Circeo: On the position of the Mousterian in the Pleistocene sequence of the Rome area. In von Koenigswald, G. H. R. (ed.),Hundert Jahre Neanderthaler, Kemink en Zoon, Utrecht, pp. 167–174.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bonch-Osmolovskii, G. A. (1940). Grot Kiik-Koba (Kiik-Koba cave).--Paleolit Krima, 1, AN SSSR, Moscow-Leningrad.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bonifay, E. (1962). Une ensemble rituel moustérien à la grotte du Régourdou (Montignac, Dordogne). InAtti del VI Congresso Internazionale delle Scienze Preistoriche e Protostoriche, Vol. II, Rome, pp. 136–140.

  9. Bonifay, E. (1964). La grotte du Régourdou (Montignac, Dordogne): stratigraphie et industrie lithique moustérienne.L'Anthropologie 68: 49–64.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Bordes, F. (1972).A Tale of Two Caves, Harper, Row, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Bordes, F. (1981). Vingt-cinq ans après: Le complexe moustérien revisité.Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française 78(3): 77–87.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Bordes, F., and Lafille, J. (1962). Découverte d'un squelette d'enfant moustérien dans le gisement du Roc de Marsal, commune de Campagne-du-Bugue (Dordogne).Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences 254: 714–715.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Boule, M. (1909). L'homme fossile de la Chapelle-aux-Saints (Corrèze).L'Anthropologie 20: 257–271.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Boutíe, P. (1979). Les gisements moustériens de Palestine.Paléorient 5: 17–65.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Bouyssonie, A., Bouyssonie, J., and Bardon, L. (1908a). Découverte d'un squelette humain moustérien à la Bouffia de la Chapelle-aux-Saints (Corrèze).L'Anthropologie 19: 513–518.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Bouyssonie, A., Bouyssonie, J., and Bardon, L. (1908b). Découverte d'un squelette humain moustérien à la Chapelle-aux-Saints (Corrèze).Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences 147: 1411–1415.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Bouyssonie, A., Bouyssonie, J., and Bardon, L. (1913). La station moustérienne de la “Bouffia” Bonneval à la Chapelle-aux-Saints.L'Anthropologie 24: 609–634.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Bouyssonie, J. (1954). Les sépultures moustériennes.Quaternaria 1: 107–115.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Breuil, H. (1921). Les observations sur les sépultures moustériennes.L'Anthropologie 31: 342–345.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Butzer, K. W. (1971).Environment and Archeology, Aldine, Chicago.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Cartailhac, E. (1912).Archéologie: les grottes de Grimaldi, Vol. II, Impr. de Monaco, Monaco.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Dart, R. A. (1957).The Osteodontokeratic Culture of Australopithecus prometheus, Transvaal Museum, Pretoria.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Defleur-Tanoux, A. (1982). Nouvel inventaire des sépultures néandertaliennes françaises. Travaux du Laboratoire d'Anthropologie et Préhistoire des Pays de la Méditerranée Occidentale, 1, Université de Provence, Aix-en-Provence.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Delporte, H. (1981). Le Grand Abri de la Ferrassie: Fouilles 1969–1973.Etudes Quaternaires, 7.

  25. Efimenko, P. P. (1953).Pervobytnoye obshchestvo (Primitive Society), AN USSR, Kiev.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Efremov, I. A. (1950). Tafonomia i geologicheskaya letopis' (Taphonomy and the geological record).Trudy Paleontologicheskogo instituta, 24, AN SSSR, Moscow-Leningrad.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Formozov, A. A. (1958). Peshchernaya stoyanka Staroselye i eyo mesto v paleolite (The Staroselye cave site and its place in the Paleolithic). Materialy i issledovaniya po arkheologii, 71, AN SSSR, Moscow.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Formozov, A. A. (1983). K probleme “ochagov pervobytnogo iskusstva’ (Concerning the problem of “centers of primitive art”).Sovetskaya arkheologia 3: 5–13.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Fraipont, J., and Lohest, M. (1987). La race humaine de Néanderthal ou de Canstadt en Belgique: Recherches ethnographiques sur des ossements humains, découverts dans des dépôts quaternaires d'une grotte à Spy et détermination de leur âge géologique.Archives de Biologie 7: 587–757.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Garrod, D. A. E., and Bate, D. M. A. (1937).The Stone Age of Mount Carmel Vol. I, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Genovés, S. (1954). The problem of the sex of certain fossil hominids, with special reference to the Neandertal skeletons from Spy.Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 84: 131–144.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Gerasimov, I. P., and Velichko, A. A. (eds.) (1982).Paleogeografiya Evropy za posledniye sto tysyach let (Paleogeography of Europe in the last one hundred thousand years), Nauka, Moscow.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Gladilin, V. N. (1979). O kulturno-khronologicheskoi prinadlezhnosti neandertalskikh pogrebenii v grote Kiik-Koba (On the cultural and chronological attribution of Neandertal burials in Kiik-Koba cave). In Kolosov, Yu. G. (ed.),Issledovaniye paleolita v Krymu (Paleolithic Research in the Crimea), Naukova dumka, Kiev, pp. 67–76.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Grigoryev, G. P. (1968).Nachalo verkhnego paleolita i proiskhozhdeniye Homo sapiens (The Beginning of the Upper Paleolithic and the Origins ofHomo sapiens), Nauka, Leningrad.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Grigoryev, G. P. (1972). Vzaimootnosheniya fizicheskogo tipa cheloveka s progressom ego materialnoi kultury (The relationship between human physical type and advances in material culture).Voprosy antropologii 41: 152–153.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Grigoryev, G. P. (1977). Paleolit Afriki (The Paleolithic of Africa). In Boriskovskii, P. I. (ed.),Paleolit mira (The Paleolithic of the World), Nauka, Leningrad, pp. 43–209.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Harrold, F. B. (1974).A Survey and Formal Analysis of Middle and Upper Paleolithic Burials from Europe and Southwest Asia, M.A. thesis, University of Chicago, Chicago.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Harrold, F. B. (1980). A comparative analysis of Eurasian Palaeolithic burials.World Archaeology 12: 195–211.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Heim, J.-L. (1976a). Les hommes fossiles de la Ferrassie (Vol. I). Archives de l'Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, 35, Masson, Paris.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Heim, J.-L. (1976b). Les Néandertaliens en Périgord. In de Lumley, H. (ed.),La Préhistoire Française, Vol. I, CNRS, Paris, pp. 578–583.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Horowitz, A. (1979).The Quaternary of Israel, Academic Press, London.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Howells, W. W. (1973).Evolution of the Genus Homo, Addison Wesley, Reading, Mass.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Hrdlička, A. (1930). The skeletal remains of early man.Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 83, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Klaatsch, H., and Hauser, O. (1909). Homo mousteriensis hauseri.Archiv für Anthropologie 7: 287–297.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Kolosov, Yu. G. (1986).Akkaiskaya mustyerskaya kultura (The Ak-kaya Mousterian Culture), Naukova dumka, Kiev.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Korobkov, I. I. (1978). Paleolit Vostochnogo Sredizemnomorya (The Paleolithic of the Eastern Mediterranean). In Boriskovskii, P. I. (ed.),Paleolit Blizhnego i Srednego Vostoka (The Paleolithic of the Near and Middle East), Nauka, Leningrad, pp. 9–185.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Leonova, N. B., and Smirnov, Yu. A. (1977). Pogrebeniye kak obyekt formalnogo analiza (Interment as an object of formal analysis).Kratkiye soobshcheniya Instituta arkheologii 148: 16–23.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Leroi-Gourhan, A. (1950). La Grotte du Loup, Arcy-sur-Cure (Yonne).Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française 47: 268–280.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Leroi-Gourhan, A. (1975). The flowers found with Shanidar IV, a Neanderthal burial in Iraq.Science 190: 562–564.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Lévêque, F., and Vandermeersch, B. (1981). Les restes humains de Saint-Césaire (Charente-Maritime).Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d'Anthropologie de Paris 8: 103–104.

    Google Scholar 

  51. McCown, T. D., and Keith, A. (1939).The Stone Age of Mount Carmel, Vol. II, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Martin, A. (1911). Présentation d'un crâne humain trouvé avec le squelette á la base du moustérien de La Quina (Charente).Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française 8: 615–626.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Marx, K. (1982).Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 7th ed., Progress, Moscow.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Masters, P. M. (1982). An amino acid racemization chronology for Tabun. In Ronen, A. (ed.), The Transition from Lower to Middle Palaeolithic and the Origin of Modern Man.BAR International Series, 151, British Archaeological Reports, Oxford, pp. 43–56.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Mellars, P. (1988). The chronology of the South-West French Mousterian: a review of the current debate. In Otte, M. (ed.),L'homme de Néandertal 4. La technique, Université de Liège, Liège, pp. 97–119.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Nikolskii, V. K. (1923).Ocherk pervobytnoi kultury (A Study of Primitive Culture), Frenkel, Moscow-Petrograd.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Oakley, K. P., Campbell, B. G., and Molleson, T. I. (eds.) (1971).Catalogue of Fossil Hominids, Part II. Europe, Trustees of the British Museum, London.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Oakley, K. P., Campbell, B. G., and Molleson, T. I. (eds.) (1975).Catalogue of Fossil Hominids, Part III. Americas, Asia, Australasia, Trustees of the British Museum, London.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Oakley, K. P., Campbell, B. G., and Molleson, T. I. (eds.) (1977).Catalogue of Fossil Hominids, Part I. Africa, 2nd ed., Trustees of the British Museum, London.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Okladnikov, A. P. (1949). Issledovaniya mustyerskoi stoyanki i pogrebeniya neandertaltsa v grote Teshik-Tash, Yuzhnyi Uzbekistan (Srednaya Aziya) [Studies of the Mousterian site and Neandertal burial in Teshik-Tash cave, Southern Uzbekistan (Central Asia)]. In Gremyatskii, M. A., and Nestrukh, M. F. (eds.),Teshik-Tash: Paleoliticheskii chelovek, MGU, Moscow, pp. 7–85.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Okladnikov, A. P. (1952). O znachenii zakhoronenii neandertaltsev dlya istorii pervobytnoi kultury (On the significance of Neandertal burials for the history of primitive culture).Sovetskaya etnografiya 3: 159–180.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Peyrony, D. (1921). Les moustériens, inhumaient-ils leurs morts?Bulletin de la Société Historique et Archéologique de Périgord 48: 132–139.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Peyrony, D. (1930). Le Moustier: ses gisements, ses industries, ses couches géologiques.Revue Anthropologique 40: 48–76, 155–176.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Peyrony, D. (1934). La Ferrassie.Préhistoire 3: 1–92.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Plisetskii, M. S. (1952). O tak nazyvayemykh neandertalskikh pogrebeniyakh (On the so-called Neandertal burials).Sovetskaya etnografiya 2: 138–157.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Quéchon, G. (1976). Les sépultures des hommes du Paléolithique supérieur. In de Lumley, H. (ed.)La Préhistoire Française, Vol. I, CNRS, Paris, pp. 728–733.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Schick, T., and Stekelis, M. (1977). Mousterian assemblages in Kebara cave, Mount Carmel.Eretz-Israel, Archaeological, Historical and Geographical Studies 13: 97–149.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Semyonov, Yu. I. (1966).Kak vozniklo chelovechestvo (How Mankind Arose), Nauka, Moscow.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Smirnov, Yu. A. (1972). Pogrebeniya epokhi neolita i rannego metalla lesnoi polosy Vostochnoi Evropy: Opyt kolichestvennogo analiza (Neolithic and early metal-age burials of the forestland of Eastern Europe: An experimental quantitative analysis). InTezisy dokladov na sektsiyakh, posvyashchyonnykh itogam polevykh issledovanii, Znaniye, Moscow, pp. 348–352.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Smirnov, Yu. A. (1979a). Pogrebeniye v La Chapelle-aux-Saints i problema “informatsionnogo shuma” v arkheologii (The La Chapelle-aux-Saints burial and the problem of “noise” in archaeological information).Voprosy antropologii 61: 164–170.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Smirnov, Yu. A. (1979b). Review of “Les sépultures néandertaliennes, Actes du IXe Congrès de l'Union des Sciences Préhistoriques et Protohistoriques, Colloque XII. Nice, 1976.”Sovetskaya arkheologiya 4: 286–294.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Smirnov, Yu. A. (1981). Mustyerskiye pogrebeniya: Variant postanovki voprosa (Mousterian burials: A different way of posing the question).Kratkiye soobshcheniya Instituta arkheologii 165: 17–23.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Smirnov, Yu. A. (1983). Review of S. R. Binford (1968), “A structural comparison of disposal of the dead in the Mousterian and the Upper Paleolithic” (Southwestern Journal of Anthropology) and F. B. Harrold (1974),A Survey and Formal Analysis of Middle and Upper Paleolithic Burials from Europe and Southwest Asia, and (1980), “A comparative analysis of Eurasian Palaeolithic burials” (World Archaeology).Sovetskaya arkheologiya 3: 246–255.

  74. Smirnov, Yu. A. (1985). Tafologiya: Popytka sistemnogo podkhoda (Taphology: An experiment in systematics). In Stanukovich, A. K. (ed.),Chelovek i okruzhayushchaya sreda v drevnosti i srednevekovye (Man and Environment in Antiquity and the Middle Ages), Nauka, Moscow, pp. 17–23.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Smirnov, Yu. A. (1987a). K voprosu o kulte cherepa i nizhnei chelusti v rannem paleolite (Concerning the problem of skull and mandible cults in the early Paleolithic).Problemy interpretatsii arkheologicheskikh istochnikov (Problems in Interpreting Archaeological Evidence), SOGU, Ordzhonikidze, pp. 50–69.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Smirnov, Yu. A. (1987b). K voprosu o stratigraficheskoi pozitsii detskogo pogrebeniya Kiik-Koba 2 (Concerning the problem of the stratigraphic position of the Kiik-Koba 2 child burial).Kratkiye soobshcheniya Instituta arkheologii 189: 17–21.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Smirnov, Yu. A. (1988).Mustyerskiye pogrebeniya Starogo Sveta: Vozniknoveniye pogrebalnoi praktiki i osnovy tafologii (The Mousterian Burials of the Old World: The Emergence of Mortuary Practices and Basic Taphology), Nauka, Moscow (in press).

    Google Scholar 

  78. Solecki, R. S. (1971).Shanidar: The First Flower People, Knopf, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  79. Stekelis, M. (1977). Kebara cave. InEncyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, Vol. III, Ji-N, Oxford, pp. 699–702.

  80. Stewart, T. D. (1977). The Neanderthal skeletal remains from Shanidar cave, Iraq: A summary of findings to date.Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 121: 121–165.

    Google Scholar 

  81. Suzuki, H., and Takai, F. (eds.) (1970).The Amud Man and his Cave Site, Academic Press of Japan, Tokyo.

    Google Scholar 

  82. Tillier, A.-M. (1982). Les inhumations d'enfants en paléolithique ancien et moyen.Histoire et Archéologie 66: 19–22.

    Google Scholar 

  83. Tokarev, S. A. (1964).Ranniye formy religii (Early Patterns of Religion), Nauka, Moscow.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Trinkaus, E. (1983).The Shanidar Neanderthals, Academic Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  85. Ullrich, H. (1986). Manipulations on human corpses, mortuary practices and burial rites in Paleolithic times.Anthropos (Brno) 23: 227–236.

    Google Scholar 

  86. Valladas, H., Geneste, J. M., Meignen, L., and Texier, P. J. (1988). Datations par la thermoluminescence de gisements moustériens du sud de la France. In Otte, M. (ed.)L'homme de Néandertal 1. La chronologie, Université de Liège, Liège, pp. 121–124.

    Google Scholar 

  87. Van Campo, M., and Bouchud, J. (1962). Flore accompagnant le squelette d'enfant moustérien découvert au Roc de Marsal, commune du Bugue (Dordogne) et première étude de la faune du gisement.Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences 254: 897–899.

    Google Scholar 

  88. Vandermeersch, B. (1965). Position stratigraphique et chronologie relative des restes humains du paléolithique moyen du sud-ouest de la France.Annales de Paléontologie 51: 68–126.

    Google Scholar 

  89. Vandermeersch, B. (1970). Une sépulture moustérienne avec offrandes découverte dans le grotte de Qafzeh.Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences 270: 298–301.

    Google Scholar 

  90. Vandermeersch, B. (1976). Les sépultures néandertaliennes. In de Lumley, H. (ed.),La Préhistoire Française, Vol. I, CNRS, Paris, pp. 725–727.

    Google Scholar 

  91. Vandermeersch, B. (1981).Les Hommes Fossiles de Qafzeh (Israël), CNRS, Paris.

    Google Scholar 

  92. Vandermeersch, B. (1982). Les premières sépultures.Histoire et Archéologie 66: 10–14.

    Google Scholar 

  93. Vlček, E. (1976). Remains of a Neanderthal child from Kiik-Koba in the Crimea.Anthropologia 22: 293–300.

    Google Scholar 

  94. Wernert, P. (1948). Le culte des crânes à l'époque paléolithique.Histoire Générale des Religions, Vol. I, Quillet, Paris.

    Google Scholar 

  95. Wreschner, E. E. (1982). Red ochre, the transition between Lower and Middle Palaeolithic and the origin of modern man. In Ronen, A. (ed.) The Transition from Lower to Middle Paleolithic and the Origin of Modern Man.BAR International Series, 151, British Archaeological Reports, Oxford, pp. 35–39.

    Google Scholar 

  96. Zamyatnin, S. N. (1961). Mustyerskiye pogrebeniya (Mousterian burials). In Boriskovskii, P. I., and Vekilova, E. A. (eds.),Ocherki po paleolitu (Studies on the Paleolithic), AN SSSR, Moscow-Leningrad, pp. 35–42.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Smirnov, Y. Intentional human burial: Middle Paleolithic (last glaciation) beginnings. J World Prehist 3, 199–233 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00975761

Download citation

Key Words

  • deliberate burial
  • Mousterian
  • Middle Paleolithic
  • Early Würm
  • Eurasia
  • taphology
  • mortuary complex