History Faculty Publications

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Book Review

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Bryn Mawr Classical Review


The fourteen conference papers in this collection explore chronological changes in funerary rituals and advance theoretical approaches that help explain such changes. The case studies range from the Mesolithic to the Early Modern periods and concentrate on European contexts. They are arranged chronologically, with four contributions on prehistory, one Etruscan, three Roman imperial, two late antique, three medieval and one early modern. The opening chapter briefly sets out five themes that characterize, to varying degrees, all subsequent contributions: change versus continuity, the relationship between practice and belief, the treatment and deposition of bodies, burial location and grave goods, and ritual and commemorative processes.

Overall, there may be more variety than commonality between the chapters, not only in terms of the broad coverage, but also in terms of the level of detail, the favored interpretive approach and theoretical perspective, and the emphasis on eschatological versus secular aspects of funerary ritual. It is difficult to navigate among the different positions, because the authors rarely reference other contributions in the same volume. There is no concluding chapter and the aforementioned introduction sets out rather general connections. The lack of cohesion is not necessarily a problem, because the collection still provides a wealth of information, on both specific scenarios and the methodological challenges of funerary archaeology. It does mean, however, that this book does not advance a unified message and readers will be likely to consult it for individual contributions. This is why the remainder of this review treats each chapter on its own terms.



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The book reviewed here is Volume 7 of the series Studies in Funerary Archaeology. Citation information: Death and Changing Rituals: Function and Meaning in Ancient Funerary Practices, J. Rasmus Brandt, Håkon Roland, and Marina Prusac, Eds. Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books, 2014.


Bryn Mawr College

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