Roman Egypt is the only part of the ancient world where documentary evidence for the age composition of the general population has survived. Pertinent information is provided by extant census returns from the first three centuries of Roman rule. Gathered every fourteen years, these documents list the members of individual households with their names, familial status, and ages. Knowledge of the age distribution enables us to track mortality rates and infer average life expectancy, which is a critical measure of overall well-being. This article discusses mortality patterns, causes of death, and disease and physical well-being.
The art of the catacombs was born in Rome between the second and third centuries and is manifested especially in the pictorial decorations of the cubicula and other hypogeal environments. The extremely simplified artistic typology echoes the Second Pompeian style through the use of red and green lines that run across the walls and the faces of the monuments. Initially this grid contained neutral figures selected from the pagan repertoire; later those images were replaced by Christian scenes inspired by biblical and salvific imagery. The art of the catacombs also includes funerary sculpture, particularly sarcophagi, and the so-called minor arts, such as gilded glass, ivory dolls, and mosaic tesserae. The catacombal decorations ended at the beginning of the fifth century, when funerary use ceased in these subterranean cemeteries.
Liv Nilsson Stutz and Sarah Tarlow
This chapter provides a brief overview of the emergence of children and childhood as a subject for archaeological investigation, before outlining archaeological evidence for medieval birth and childhood from settlement and cemetery excavations. Children’s burials provide information on the social persona and treatment of children at death, attitudes to the death of infants and older children, and their memorialization in the form of burial location, and above-ground monuments such as brasses. Skeletal material yields evidence of age at death, as well as information on health and life-course. Isotope and other scientific analyses of skeletal material is providing further information about childhoods, including diet and migration. Settlements are a fruitful source of information about geographies of medieval childhoods, children’s involvement in work and play, and the material culture of medieval childhood.
Sherry C. Fox and Paraskevi Tritsaroli
This chapter examines the contribution of the contextual study of human skeletal remains of Early Christian burials in the eastern Mediterranean. Bioarchaeological studies of sites in Greece, Cyprus, Asia Minor, and Palestine are presented to better understand the people and their burial practices from this region during a tumultuous period in the fourth through seventh centuries. The use of multiple lines of evidence such as funerary archaeology, taphonomy, and skeletal biology reveals the lifestyles and burial customs of the inhabitants from a selection of eastern Mediterranean sites. Despite regional variations, there is a great degree of uniformity in the burial customs across the areas under consideration. Finally, the populations of the eastern Mediterranean share similar demographic profiles and health outcomes. Future research will likely engage in scientific applications in archaeology that may address significant questions, such as reconstructing diet from stable isotope analyses and disease via ancient DNA analysis.
Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai
The Roman catacombs, dated to the early third century, are characterized by regular plans that made the best use of available space. In the late third and fourth centuries, the catacombs grew in number and extent through the establishment of new areas. Beginning in the fifth century, the Roman catacombs ceased to be the usual places of burial and become instead spaces dedicated to the cult of the martyrs. The catacombs of the Italian peninsula and the larger islands of the Mediterranean, Greece, and Roman Africa, dated usually between the fourth and fifth centuries, are fewer and smaller than those in Rome, but are distinct in their plans and adaptation to different environments.
Vicki Cummings, Magdalena S. Midgley†, and Chris Scarre
This contribution explores variations in the construction, form, use, and re-use of Neolithic chambered tombs in three key areas of northern and western Europe: (1) France and Iberia; (2) northern Germany, Holland, and southern Scandinavia; and (3) Britain and Ireland. The chapter outlines chronological patterns, and considers key themes such as the choice of materials for construction, locations chosen for construction, conditions of access to and decorations at the monuments, the deposition of human remains and other material at the tombs, and activities at the exterior of these monuments. The implications of similarities and differences between regions are examined, and potential areas for future research are discussed.
While reports of child sacrifice in the ancient Andes are often sensationalized to captivate popular audiences, the study of the practice provides archaeologists with an important means of investigating power and sociopolitical dynamics in antiquity. This chapter discusses the significance of the terms ‘child’ and ‘sacrifice’ in the Andes and examines the evidence of child sacrifice from ancient contexts in Andean regions of modern-day Peru and Bolivia. It considers data on sacrificial practices from dives sources, such as descriptions in ethnohistorical documents, representations in architectural design and portable art, and direct evidence found in the archaeological record. Finally, various approaches to the study of these sacrifices and possible avenues for future analyses are outlined.
This article begins with an overview of the history of excavations and exploration at Tuna el-Gebel. It then discusses the site of Tuna el-Gebel; the necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel before Roman rule; the development of the urban structure in the early Roman period; the tombs of the second and third centuries
In ancient Greek thought, Hades constitutes, inter alia, the incarnation of the invisible— an apparent contradiction of efforts to represent the dark kingdom of the lord of dead. After a brief review of the special vocabulary, imagery, and connotations associated with darkness in poetic and philosophical thinking, this chapter investigates the main devices used in mythic narratives as well as in real religious topography to insinuate darkness and invisibility. An astute use of natural landscape features and architectural elements, such as natural or artificial chasms, narrow passages, cloudy atmosphere, shadowing, and reflective effects tries to anticipate the features of the Otherworld and/or to permit a protected, although slightly distorted, view of the unseeable. Particular emphasis is given to the role of caves and ever-flowing rivers and streams, but also of still water of pools and lakes, an element which acquires an increasing importance from the classical period onwards.
Death is a broader subject within the archaeology of ritual and religion than recognizable funerary rites. The intersect between death and belief has resulted in many of the most significant surviving ancient finds, sites, and monuments, such as the bog bodies of North-western Europe, the Shanidar Neanderthal interments, the pyramids of Egypt, and the tombs of Queen Puabi and of the first emperor of China. Many significant ritual sites have a death-related aspect, as loci of human killing and the deposition of remains (causewayed camps, central European Kreisgrabenanlagen, the Aztec temples) while others were designed for ritualized activities that, though not primarily describable as religious, adumbrated a cosmology of life and death (the Roman Colosseum). This article discusses the anthropology and sociology of death, funerary archaeology, physical death outside the valedictory and funerary contexts (ritual killing, human sacrifice, endo- and exo-cannibalism, etc.), and materiality approaches and evolutionary aspects.
Stanley J. Ulijaszek
Diet and nutrition need to be adequate to sustain human growth, sexual maturation, reproduction, and the physical labour needed to obtain food and support the successful maturation of offspring to reproductive age. This chapter examines human diet and nutrition as they relate to infectious disease experience, and how nutrition and infection influence the human life course, which is organized according to life history stages. Human life history theory organizes growth and reproduction into largely exclusive processes: available energy goes first into the former, and then, after puberty, into the latter. Human life history is extremely plastic, with child growth, onset of sexual maturity, fecundity and longevity all being sensitive to nutrition. Such plasticity has been fundamental to human ecological success and it is important to understand it to be able to interpret evidence for biological quality of life among past populations.
This chapter surveys burial practices across Iron Age Europe, working outwards from the Circum-Alpine zone. During this period, only a fraction of the population was formally buried, in varying proportions over time and space. These were generally members of the political, economic, and religious elite, as is most clear in the case of richly furnished and monumental graves. Among communities of equivalent political complexity, however, some practised more modest burial, lacking clear status differentiation in their graves. Funerary practices carry ideological messages about how communities wish to appear, symbolically materializing the relations of the social group with the land on which they live and perpetuating the memory of certain people in the consciousness of the survivors. The social significance of Iron Age mortuary practices is examined: detailed analysis of differences between graves and cemeteries provides a wealth of information ranging from individual social relationships to economic and political organization.
Erella Hovers and Anna Belfer-Cohen
This chapter discusses medieval burial ritual, including the act of burial, cemeteries and burial location, and the grave goods of priest, bishops, nobility, and royalty which included a wide range of clothing and objects associated with their office. The burial of Richard III illustrates how much bioarchaeology can now reveal to us about the biography of the body in the grave. Also outlined here are the distinctive mortuary practices of, for example, Jews, lepers, heretics, and suicides as well as the mainstream Christian tradition of heart burials. Commemorative monuments of all levels of society are described, from medieval royal tombs to the graves of the poorest parishioner, though minor monuments within the graveyard are only rarely discovered.