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The Archaeology of Ancestors: The Saxe/Goldstein Hypothesis Revisited

  • Ian Morris (a1)

Extract

Since the mid-1980s, debates between competing schools of archaeological interpretation have become more theoretical and abstruse, moving away from confrontations over specific methods of analyzing our data. This article reopens arguments over one of the more controversial propositions of the New Archaeology - Saxe's claim that the emergence of formal cemeteries corresponds to the appearance of agnatic lineages monopolizing vital resources through inheritance. The hypothesis is examined in three ways: through a generalized ethnological model; through specific ethnographic data from Taiwan and Kenya; and through a historical comparison of Athens from 500 to 100 BC and Rome from 200 BC to AD 200. It is argued that all three methods lead to a similar conclusion, that many societies do indeed talk about the dead in the way the Saxe/Goldstein hypothesis maintains, but that in any specific instance the cemetery/property message may well be subverted by other arguments which the buriers are making.

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