Embodied Rituals and Ritualized Bodies : Tracing Ritual Practcies in Late Mesolithic Burials

Abstract: This thesis explores the ritual dimensions of the mortuary practices in the late Mesolithic cemeteries at Skateholm in Southern Sweden and Vedbæk-Bøgebakken in Eastern Denmark. With a combination of methods and theories that all focus on the ritual practices as action, a new approach to burials in archaeology is proposed. Special attention is given to the treatment of the body after death, which is regarded to hold a central role in the mortuary practices. The focus on the body and on practices as actions is a central part of the method of analysis applied to the material. The French taphonomic approach anthropologie de terrain, which ultimately aims to reconstruct the acts that constituted the mortuary rituals, allows for a firm connection between the archaeological material and the theoretical framework. Through the engagement with practice theory and ritual theory, this thesis also touches upon the fundamental questions of why we need rituals to structure our lives and our world. More specifically, it discusses different dimensions of the need for rites of passage at death. How does ritual help us deal with the dual aspect of the crisis of death – the loss of a social being and the emergence of a cadaver? What does it mean for us to deal with the inevitably decomposing remains of our dead? How do the experiences and memories of these rituals contribute to shape our notions of body, self, life and death? Ultimately, this thesis is an attempt to make a connection, on the level of the processes of structuration of human life, between then and now, them and us.

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