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Interactions with the Dead: A Taphonomic Analysis of Burial Practices in Three Megalithic Tombs in County Clare, Ireland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2017

Abstract

Burial is a highly symbolic activity through which concepts of the world are reflected in the representation and treatment of human remains. While mortuary studies in archaeology and anthropology have had a long history, our understanding of Neolithic societies through such analyses is lacking. This article has attempted to broaden our understandings of one such society, focusing upon the megalithic tomb tradition in Ireland, through an integrated study of the burial practices taking place at several sites located on the Burren, County Clare. The Parknabinnia chambered tomb, Poulnabrone portal tomb, and Poulawack Linkardstown-type cairn are located within three kilometres of each other and date to contemporary periods. Several questions are explored through the use of archaeological evidence, osteological analysis, and taphonomy to allow for a broader appreciation of social practices in the past – most notably burial practices. What types of burial practices were taking place; how do the sites compare to each other; and how do they fit within the overall scheme of Neolithic practices we have come to understand?

L'enterrement est une activité hautement symbolique où, dans la représentation et le traitement des restes humains, se reflètent les conceptions du monde. Bien qu'en archéologie et en anthropologie, les études mortuaires ont eu une longue histoire, de telles analyses ne nous ont guère éclairés sur le fonctionnement des sociétés néolithiques. Cet article, en se concentrant sur la tradition des tombes mégalithiques en Irlande, essaie d'élargir nos connaissances sur une de ces sociétés par une étude intégrée des pratiques funéraires effectuées sur plusieurs sites dans le Burren, Comté de Clare. La tombe à chambre de Parknabinnia, le dolmen à portique de Poulnabrone et le cairn de type Linkardstown de Poulawack datent de périodes contemporaines et sont situés à trois km de distance l'un de l'autre. Plusieurs questions examinées au moyen des preuves archéologiques, des analyses ostéologiques et de la taphonomie devraient permettre une meilleure compréhension des pratiques sociales dans le passé – pour la plupart du temps surtout pratiques funéraires. Quels types de pratiques funéraires étaient effectués, de quelle façon les sites sont comparables entre eux et dans quelle mesure ils correspondent au système général des pratiques néolithiques établi à ce jour? Translation by Isabelle Gerges.

Zusammenfassung

Zusammenfassung

Die Bestattung ist eine höchst symbolische Handlung, in der sich Weltanschauungen der Repräsentation und der Behandlung menschlicher Überreste widerspiegeln. Trotzdem Studien zu Bestattungen in der Archäologie und Anthropologie eine lange Forschungsgeschichte haben, gibt es noch immer große Lücken in unserem Verständnis derartiger Praktiken neolithischer Gemeinschaften. Dieser Beitrag möchte mit dem Fokus auf der megalithischen Bestattungstradition in Irland anhand einer integrierten Studie der Beisetzungpraktiken, die an verschiedenen Plätzen im Burren (County Clare) durchgeführt wurden, unser Verständnis einer solchen Gemeinschaft erweitern. Das Kammergrab von Parknabinnia, der Portaldolmen von Poulnabrone sowie der Cairn vom Linkardstown-Typ von Poulawack sind jeweils drei Kilometer voneinander entfernt und datieren in denselben Zeitraum. Verschiedenen Fragen wird anhand der archäologischen Quellen, der osteologischen sowie der taphonomischen Analysen nachgegangen, um ein breiteres Verständnis sozialer Praktiken in der Vergangenheit – und dabei besonders des Bestattungsverhaltens – zu erreichen. Welche Typen von Beisetzungspraktiken fanden statt, sind die Fundplätze miteinander vergleichbar und wie passen sie sich in das generelle Schema neolithischer Praktiken ein, die wir bereits definiert haben? Translation by Heiner Schwarzberg.

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Copyright © 2011 Maney Publishing 

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Interactions with the Dead: A Taphonomic Analysis of Burial Practices in Three Megalithic Tombs in County Clare, Ireland
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