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The nature of burial data. In: C.K. Jensen and K.H. Nielsen (eds.). Burial and society: the chronological and social analysis of archaeological burial data. Aarhus, Oxford and Oakville (Connecticut): Aarhus University Press 1997. 19-27.

In burial archaeology, approaches based on symbolism and structuration theory represent a considerable theoretical advance over the positivism of German traditionalist and Anglo-American processual archaeology because they take better account of the
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  The Nature of Burial Data Heinrich H„rkeGraves, be they cremations or inhumations, are probably our mostnumerous type of evidence for the later prehistoric and earlyhistorical (protohistoric) periods in Europe. They have, therefore, beenused widely for inferences on past societies. Beyond their supposedvalue as sources for dress and material culture of the respectivesocieties, graves have been considered particularly useful forinterpretations in terms of social organisation, i.e. wealth, status androles of individuals, and structures of entire communities. Suchinferences from the treatment of the dead to the world of the livingraises questions as to the nature of the link between the two realms. This has, of course, been a major issue in the archaeological debate of the last three decades. It is the intention here to briefly review somerelevant points of this debate in German as well as Anglophonearchaeology, and then approach the question of the link between lifeand death by a closer look at the nature of burial data. The term 'burial data' is used here in its widest sense to refer to alldata from grave contexts, not just from inhumations. It is, thus,applied to include the full meaning of the terms 'funerary' and'mortuary' data.Burial analysis: assumptions and approachesLimiting the review of the key issues to German and Anglo-American archaeology seems justified because most of the debate onburials, their background and interpretation happened in these twotraditions. It should be noted, however, that the debate was carriedout within each of the two traditions, and not between them: in fact,they have largely ignored one another since the 1960s, in burialarchaeology as well as most other areas of the discipline (H„rke1989). It is, therefore, possible to treat the respective developmentsof thought separately. The German traditionApart from early observations on wealth differentials of furnishedgraves by 18th and 19th century antiquarians and archaeologists, thesrcins of systematic burial analysis in Germany appear to go back to  studies of early medieval row-grave cemeteries ( Reihengr„berfelder  )between the two World Wars. In the Alamannic cemetery of Holzgerlingen, Veeck (1926) differentiated three male status groups:with sword (identified as free men), with other weapons (semi-free),and without weapons (unfree). Similar schemes and interpretationshave been commonplace since Veeck, particularly in protohistoricarchaeology (cf. comparative tables in Steuer 1968, 57 Abb. 1; 1982,311 Abb. 88). This kind of approach has been based, explicitly or implicitly, ontwo premises, a religious and a legal one. The religious premise startsout from the assumption that the burial rite was determined by belief concerning the hereafter. In this way, social differences among theliving were carried over, via the grave-goods custom, into the world of the dead (Paulsen 1967, 150). The legal argument holds that some of the property of a dead person was of such a personal nature that itwas inalienable, and therefore put into the grave rather than passedon to heirs. This property was the so-called hergewaete of the menand gerade of the women (Reinecke 1925; Redlich 1948; Stein 1967,181-183; cf. Genrich 1971, 207, 216-217). The implications of these two premises for archaeologicalinterpretation are profound. As social roles determine theaccumulation of movable property, and a carefully circumscribed partof the latter is deposited with the dead owner, grave-goods shoulddirectly reflect functional units of equipment (military kit, workshoptool set, household equipment etc.). And if a fixed proportion of personal property was put into the graves, the grave-goods can serveas a direct measure of the wealth and social status of the person withwhom they were buried. In other words: graves can be consideredfaithful 'mirrors of life' ( Spiegel des Lebens ; Haffner 1989).Criticism of this notion, and of the underlying premises, hasaddressed the inherent danger of circular argument as well as the factthat the legal premise is based on considerably later law codes theprovisions of which need not have applied centuries earlier, nor inother societies. A possibly even more serious problem is thedeterministic and normative view of social relations underlying suchapproaches. After all, the grave-goods are virtually considered to bethe result of a legal and social contract between the living and thedead. The burial debate of the 1960s in German protohistoricarchaeology led to two parallel developments: the refinement of thesocial approach; and the abandonment of social inferencesaltogether.-2===-   The best-known refinement has been provided by Christlein (1973)who argued for an economic perspective. In his view, grave-goodswould reflect not the legal status of the deceased, but only his wealthand/or that of his family. Therefore, the aim of burial analysis usinggrave-goods can only be the reconstruction of the economic power of the deceased. This argument, and the resulting 'quality groups'( Qualit„tsgruppen ) of early medieval burials have been widelyaccepted and used, and they have not yet been superseded by adifferent approach or procedure. Steuer, in his review of socialinterpretations in German archaeology, concurred that analysis by'quality groups' leads to convincing patterns in the protohistoric burialevidence (Steuer 1982, 516). But in this economic perspective, burialdata are still assumed to be a 'mirror of life', only now they areassumed to mirror the economic power of the deceased - which isassumed to be closely tied to the "actual social conditions", anyway(Christlein 1973, 148).By contrast, Werner (1968) suggested to abandon social inferencesfrom burials for the time being because no workable methodology hadyet been developed; until this happened, archaeologists should stickto straighforward inferences of armament, dress etc. Whilst theobservation on current methodologies clearly had some merit at thetime, Werner, in effect, suggested the return from refined positivismto rock-bottom positivism: grave-goods were still thought of as'mirrors', but reflecting only everyday, practical aspects of past life.One of the more far-sighted and sophisticated contributions to thedebate came from Hbener (1977) who, apart from calling for detailed    typological studies, advocated the careful analysis of the use of artefacts (in this case, weapons) in the burial ritual. Unfortunately, inhis subsequent studies, Hbener never followed up this essentially    post-processual suggestion, nor have many other Germanarchaeologists studying later prehistoric and protohistoric cemeteries(for exceptions, cf. Sievers 1982; Weski 1982). Gebhr, in a series of     studies, has approached this question from a different angle bycorrelating grave-goods with skeletal age and sex determinations of individuals in Roman Iron Age cremation cemeteries (Gebhr 1975;    Gebhr und Kunow 1976). This approach which has since been taken    up by several of his students highlights interrelations between burialritual (in this case, grave-goods) and social context (in this case,gender and age roles and demographic structures), and representsone of the most promising lines of research in current German burialarchaeology.Anglo - American archaeology   The counterpart to the debate in German protohistoric discussionhas run in British and American prehistoric archaeology, and it raisedsome points which were strinkingly similar. But while the Germandebate has stagnated in the last one or two decades, Anglo-Americanarchaeology has developed from culture-historical into processual andpost-processual (in its several variants), each with their own views onthe proper study of dead mankind (H„rke 1989).Recent English-language reviews of mortuary studies may havegiven the impression that systematic burial analysis began withprocessual archaeology in the 1960s. But it should not be forgottenthat the so-called 'traditionalist school' of culture-historicalarchaeology which dominated archaeological thought before, dealtquite extensively with burial rites. 'Traditionalist' scholars alsosuggested social interpretations of burials, and although much of thiswas in terms of 'chieftains' and 'princes' (e.g. Piggott 1965, 123-133),Childe, among others, anticipated later thinking by linking the grave-goods custom to competition in society (Childe 1945, 17).On the whole, though, pre-processual archaeologists tended toview burial rites as determined by religious norms (e.g. Hawkes1954). This, in turn, made it possible to use burial customs asdiagnostic features in the definition of archaeological cultures. Byextension, variations in burial ritual were interpreted in terms of cultural contacts and 'influences'. It was exactly these points whichwere criticised most strongly by Binford (1971) when he laid thefoundations of a processual mortuary archaeology: treating burialdata as a reflection of cultural norms leads, in his view, to stressinguniformity and common characteristics within cultures; but whatBinford suggested archaeologists and anthropologists should do isinvestigate the internal variability of cultures and interpret them insocial terms. This became, of course, one of the main aims of the 'NewArchaeology' of the 1960s and 1970s (cf. Tainter 1978). It approachedthis aim on the premise that human society is a system made up of interconnected subsystems, and that material culture reflects theexistence and workings of all the various subsystems involved. Thepostulated interconnection between the social and ideologicalsubsystems allowed processualists to assume that burial ritual isdirectly correlated with the social complexity of a community, and thesocial status of individuals within it.-4===-  social status ------> burial ritual ------> inference of social statusPeebles (1971, 69) put it in a nutshell: burials are the "fossilizedterminal statuses of individuals". Analyses of ethnographic cases(Binford 1971; Saxe 1970) provided the methodological justification of the theoretical assumptions which have been based, among others,on role theory. While most of the theoretical basis was formulated inNorth American Archaeology, processual approaches had aconsiderable impact on British, Dutch and Scandinavian burial studies(cf. e.g. Arnold 1980; Chapman et al. 1981; Shennan 1975; Shephard1979; Willems 1978; Randsborg 1973; 1974; Thrane 1981). The premise that burial data are a direct reflection of socialorganisation is, of course, as positivist as most German approaches,and as normative as the premises of the culture-historical tradition. Ina sense, the early processualists who studied mortuary data simplysubstituted social norms for religious norms, and the propertyconcepts used or implied were all too often those of modern westernsociety. Later processualists adopted a markedly more sophisticatedoutlook, probably under the influence of the incipient post-processualdebate (cf. below). For example, O'Shea (1981; 1984) analysedseveral North American Indian cemeteries, compared the patternswith the ethnographic record and concluded that not all aspects of social organisation are equally well reflected in the archaeologicalrecord of burials. In another late processualist study, Morris (1987)used skeletal data and demographic information in his analysis andsocial interpretation of Classical Greek funerary evidence. Hisapproach is somewhat reminiscent of Gebhr's earlier work on    cemeteries in Northern Germany and Denmark (cf. above), but wasclearly formulated independently.Post-processual archaeologists developed their own approaches tomortuary archaeology through a critique of processualist tenets andstudies. In particular, they commented that role theory degradesindividuals to actors on the social scene, not allowing them any roomfor individual decisions and actions (Shanks and Tilley 1987, 44-45).And they concluded from ethnoarchaeological observations that burialritual is, at best, an indirect reflection of society (Hodder 1980; 1982),one of the reasons being that it is a rite de passage distorted byideology (Parker-Pearson 1982, 101). Except for some early attemptswhich basically offereded structuralist analysis and neo-Marxistinterpretations (e.g. Shanks and Tilley 1982; Tilley 1984), British post-processual approaches to the study of the burial record may bebroadly subdivided into two groups: symbolic (or contextual) and
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