mortuary practices

You oughta hear my Neanderthal lecture sometime. Every semester I give a lecture in 105, the human evolution course (and sometimes do it as a guest lecture for 102, introduction to archaeology) about Neanderthals and symbolic thought. It started out as an overview of Neanderthal mortuary practice and now it’s a full hour+ lecture about the changing public perception of Neanderthals- we look at illustrations of Neanderthals from 1909 to today and talk about what’s reflected about contemporary society in the images. We also talk about tools and art- stuff like the Krapina eagle claws and the Gorham’s Cave engraving and the Bruniquel cave rings- and the students always seem to walk away with new ideas about our closest cousins.

anonymous asked:

hi :) do you have anything on old nordic tattoos (I read an Islamic traveller described vikings as being heavily tattooed) or at least genuine old nordic (I don't know the proper term, since vikings is not right?) art that could feature in tattoos? thank you :)

First I’ll answer your terminology question. “Vikings” is a non-technical term that can refer to: pirates, traders or sailors (there often wasn’t much of a distinction); or people who lived during the Viking Age. The Viking Age runs from roughly 800-1050 AD, about 200 years, which is a very short time in terms of history and archaeology. I tend to use Nordic/Norse for the Scandinavian area, and Germanic to encompass the Rus and Anglo-Saxon branches.

In answer to the tattoos, I refer you to The Viking Answer Lady’s page on tattooing. To sum up what she said, we have very little idea what the tattoos may have looked like, but we do know that they were there. Ibn Fadlan (the Islamic traveler you are referencing) describes the tattooing being done in blackish-bluish ink and featuring “trees.” The Viking Answer Lady claims that these trees are likely knotwork designs, which are highly pervasive in art in this period (and earlier.)

The ink was most probably made with wood and pot ash, a very common ancient tattooing pigment. Red-brown pigments may have been obtained from red ochre, which was used extensively in mortuary practice. These may have been painted on as temporary body art (as is the case for some burials) or may have been tattooed into the skin. 

There are lots of “viking inspired” tattoo designs around the internet, but I’m guessing that’s not quite what you want. If you’re thinking of getting a tattoo yourself, I do have some advice. Firstly, if you are not Heathen yourself, you should steer clear of religious symbols out of respect. These generally include Mjolnir and the Valkunut. I would also advise against runes either singularly or as a saying for two reasons. The first is that runes are much more than the simple correspondences that are laid out in most books. There is a lot of study that goes into the complex meanings of even a single rune. (I am doing a rune study right now, and it involves history, linguistics, folklore and so much more.) The second reason is that if you’re getting a saying tattooed that has been “translated” into runes, it’s probably wrong. It’s not as bad as getting a modern language tattooed on your body that you do not speak, but it’s the same idea. 

That aside, here are some things that were common in art in the period, and may very likely have shown up as tattoos, (though this is speculation). Animal symbolism is huge in the Germanic traditions. There are particular animals that show up over and over again in art, all with their own connotations. The boar, wolf and bear all represent different styles of fighting/different kinds of warriors, and are commonly seen. Dogs are also quite common, though sometimes it is hard to tell if we are seeing dogs or wolves. Horses and cattle, given the prevalence of pastoralism in Scandinavia, are unsurprisingly commonly portrayed. Lastly birds of prey. Birds of prey (eagles, falcons and ravens mostly) are associated with death, but also with magic. Sorcerers are said to be able to take the form of such a bird and travel the world, and images of half bird-half human figures are quite common. Birds are also interpreted as something being Huginn and Muninn if they are found in pairs, particularly near a male figure.

In the ancient nordic tradition, mostly just before the start of the Viking Age proper, there appears to be no distinction between humans and animals, so often you see representations of people (or perhaps spirits) who seem to be both. In earlier traditions, jewelry and other adornments had a central image with a border around it, where as by the time of the famous Sutton Hoo find (6th Century) the art becomes more focused on symmetry. Humans with animal heads (or vise versa) are common motifs, as are humans with their arms turning into animals. There is an example here, described as being half man, half wild boar. You can clearly see eagles present both in the bulk of the belt buckle, and also at the top forming the clasp.

When it comes to human depictions, most are scenes from from various tales or myths. For style you may want to look at the Gotland Picture Stones.

I hope that helps you, good luck!

inkstainedqueer  asked:

HEY. So yesterday I was re-reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods. In this book, Anubis is noted to eat a slice of the heart, liver, and one of the kidneys (page 201 if you are interested) out of respect. It's a good thing. Then in the astral last night, I find myself in front of him and he is eating a slice of a heart I offer him. Any idea what's up with that? Is he just saying hello or is there more to it?


Well, now, see, you’ve tapped into a kind of interesting thing actually. Anubis does have his flesh-eating aspects. Somewhere amongst my various books, I distinctly remember coming across a passage about Anubis having been an eater of the hearts of the king’s enemies (probably an Old Kingdom reference.) His role as ‘Accounter of Hearts’ has a hidden meaning, because not only does it play role an obvious judgement role in the Weighing of the Heart Ceremony, ‘accounting’ can be a euphemism for cleaving/eating.

Also of interest are some passages in an article by M. Wegner (‘Wepwawet in Context’) where she writes about some of the behavioral characteristics of black-backed jackals and how this translates into the mythology of the jackal gods (and indeed does an admirable job arguing for the identity of the sAb-animal as a black-backed jackal.) She says: “[…] the species has been described as “a very neat feeder”, opening the carcass on the flank between the base of the ribs and the hip, and eating only a small amount before leaving the carcass. The parts consumed are often limited to the kidneys, liver, heart, and tips of the ribs of the animal, and the remains have a “hollowed out” appearance after this activity due to the removal of flesh under the skin without tearing the skin itself.” She goes on to say how this behaviour has obvious connections to AE mortuary practices, ie the removal of organs via a small incision, etc. She also talks about a pretty cool pair of wax figurines: “One figurine depicts a supine woman, with hands and feet bound behind her back, surmounted by a recumbent jackal. A round cavity has been made in her abdomen, suggesting the jackal has just finished consuming its contents.” (The woman, being in the position that she is, is clearly ‘an enemy’ or wrong-doer, which relates back to the idea of Anubis as an eater of the hearts of the king’s enemies.)

For the offering of meat by a devotee, a relatively common autobiographical declaration states that the deceased had fed the jackals of the mountains. It was considered a sacred act and would have been the feeding of not only the animals themselves, but the animals as hypostases of the jackal gods too. Canids in general seem to have a particular fondness for organ meat, so it seems only right that that the gods who are so closely aligned with them would share in this love.

As for what that all means in connection with your experience, I think that only you will be able to work that out. But Anubis certainly does like hearts, so maybe next time go with an offering of organ meat. Or if you happen to have any spare enemies lying around…

(And this isn’t even getting into any of the ‘being consumed as a means of rebirth/initiation’ thing that Anubis has going on.)

Halloween In The Funeral House of Horrors

As the evening begins to darken into night upon the streets of New York, the many buildings and homes of the bustling city lit up, and trick-or-treaters began to take to the streets.  It was time for the party to begin, and Madame Grim’s Funeral House of Horrors was all ready for the guests and trick-or-treaters.  The outside of the typically foreboding mortuary practically doubled in the amount of gruesomeness, challenging the party guests’, as well as the young trick-or-treaters’, bravery as they gaze upon it.  A worn down wooden sign greeted all those who approached, the words painted with crimson letters read: “Trick-Or-Treaters shall be rewarded with a bountiful bucket of sweets!  Welcome, party guests!”; realistic-looking blood oozed endlessly down the walls of the mansion-like estate, but the entire building looked like it was alive with bones, skin, and pulsing muscle tissues.  Not only that, but the gargoyles on the roof had bloody severed limbs clutched in their jaws and claws; fake, decaying severed heads were impaled on the black iron gates; and, realistic-looking corpses near dug up graves were scattered all over the manicured lawn.

However, once the guests get inside the building, a much more pleasant atmosphere should put them more at ease.

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anonymous asked:

have you ever considered writing some hannigram fic?

A lot of people have been asking me about this since I fucking lost my everloving mind across various mediums regarding Hannibal, which – provokingly – took a pairing that I liked plenty as a platonic, overly intense murderer and FBI profiler one, gave it some industrial strength poppers, took it to a goth gay sex club on blood play night and then promised me 12 hours of bonus footage on the third season blu ray. I’m only human, God damn it, I have fucking needs. I eat; I bleed; I buy $200 shoes and like a preacher needs pain and a needle needs a vein I fucking need Hannibal and Will to bone nasty stylez.

That said, friend Anon, I do not believe you, nor the fandom at large, would benefit if I were to wade into this blood-pinked ocean with its uncut European dicks just bobbing around waiting for some sweet, Bayou-bred empath to run his teeth along the glans. 

This is because there are only three potential stories I would write:

1. Will does not survive The Fall. Hannibal finds this rude – no, vulgar. Thus, he completely ignores this fact, and takes the body with him in his travels, inhabits his beautiful apartments in Spain and France and Monaco with Will’s bones and versions of him from the many rooms of his memory palace, where Will lives like an odalisque. But this only works so long, because the reason for Hannibal’s unwavering devotion, his obsession and love, was that even Hannibal was incapable of capturing each of Will’s facets, and too soon, the wretched facsimiles he’s doomed to share his eternity with become infuriating. This is not a teacup shattering, friends, this is reality breaking apart, and the sudden weight of Will’s fingers turned to carefully strung bone on Hannibal’s palm. Insert killing spree. 

2. Will does not survive The Fall. Hannibal performs the ultimate act of love and devotion and practices mortuary cannibalism. I don’t know if you know this, Anon, but I am a not fucking around cook, and I have been training for this moment my entire life. I have watched the entire series burning with need to write about making bone broth, about smoking bacon, about the divine pleasures of unctuous, collagen-thick sauces, glossy with gelatin from…you know, wherever. He makes a feast of Will Graham BUT IT WILL NOT SUSTAIN HIM, ANON. THIS MEAL WILL END LONG BEFORE HANNIBAL’S HUNGER DOES.

3. Little House on the Prairie A/B/O AU.

So no, I’m not writing Hannibal fanfiction. YOU’RE WELCOME.

People who try to make Meaningful Deep Morbid Points about how solitary the grave is sure do have a limited understanding of the breadth of human mortuary practices.

Support your local anthropologist: be buried with a friend.  Or twelve! 

Hell throw some domesticated animals and random leftover bits from last night’s dinner in there, too, that shit’s always fun.

drackomancer-deactivated2015042  asked:

What is the difference between gender and sex? How can these be examined (or determined) in the archaeological record?

This question was also submitted by sonoftheoceans. I am getting quite detailed in this answer as the subject matter crosses over with my forensics class.

Gender and sex are fundamentally different, but related concepts. Sex refers to biological sex, which a continuum with two ending reference points (Male and Female) upon which various physical traits are ranked. At the most basic biological definition, biosex males produce sperm gametes, and biosex females produce egg gametes. Gender refers to the social constructs that are built around biosex. Unlike sex, which is a continuum between points, gender is a realm of endless possibility. Someone of a female gender in one society will not have the same definition of what it is to be a woman than someone of a female gender in a totally different society. In short, unlike sex, there are not simply two genders. Though we often assume sex and gender to be synonymous in day to day to life for the sake of simplicity, this is not an appropriate assumption to bring to the archaeological record.

Sex can be determined with relative accuracy by examining the human skeleton, if the skeleton is complete enough. The best method is through gross examination of certain key traits upon the pelvis or skull. Although general robusticity can be an indicator, it is not very reliable, as frame size varies with ancestry. The most reliable indicators are those on the pelvis: The female pelvis is large and more “turned out” looking than the male. The pelvic inlet (the space at the top of the pelvis through which a baby would enter the vaginal canal) is rather heart shaped in males, while being completely circular in females. In addition, the coccyx protrudes further underneath the pelvic bones in males than in females, making childbirth impossible. The area immediately below the pubis (subpubic concavity) is shaped like an upside down V in males, while it is a very clear U in females. These differences are so extreme that even an untrained eye can tell the difference between a male and female pelvis, and though sex characteristics do vary quite a bit, the pelvis is not usually the site of the ambiguity. Lastly the sciatic notch, the inner curve of the illiac blade, is much wider in females than males.

There are also a number of characteristics on the skull which can be used to situations where the pelvis is not present. These are far more relative and variable than pelvic characteristics, and vary with ancestry as well. Generally, males will have supraorbital tori (eyebrow ridges on the skull), though european females may have these as well. The mastoid process (a small peninsula of bone directly behind the ear) is longer and larger in males than females, and males also tend to have a more pronounced mental eminence (chin point) and nuchal crest (a little bump of bone at the back of the occipital bone). The edges of eye sockets tend to be sharper in females than males as well, and in non-european groups, males tend to have slightly flared mandibles.

The archaeologist or osteologist would examine the skeleton and rank each macroscopic feature (We learned 15 bony features in my forensics class that can be used, I’ve only discussed the most basic above) and rank each feature with an M or F for “probable male” or “probable female” depending. Once finished, the researcher would go through all of these traits and select the sex which is supported by the greatest number of characteristics. This methodology is important because of the fact discussed earlier that even biological sex is a continuum between two extremes. Just because one feature (such as the subpubic concavity) is obviously at the female end of the spectrum does not mean that the individual was a biosex female. In most archaeological cases, not every indicator will preserve. In cases like that, it becomes even more important that every landmark present is examined, especially when the pelvis is missing. It is also worth noting that everything I just discussed only applies to the adult skeleton. Sexing children is much more difficult, and is a subject for another time.

Gender is much more difficult to see in the archaeological record, and there is a huge problem with researchers casting modernized western gender ideals back onto the archaeological record. Generally the only hints we have at gender in the funerary context are grave goods. Labor is considered to be nearly universally divided in terms of gender role (an assumption that we have to make to get work done, but which is in and of itself inherently flawed). Because sex and gender are correlated (though still not synonymous) it can mean that a consist finding of certain grave goods correlated with a certain sexed skeleton in a cemetery can indicate representation of gender. It is frightening and amazing, however, how the same goods placed with a different sexed skeleton can produce wildly different interpretations. My textbook (Mike Parker Pearson) gives the example of how in the American Midwest, males found with trade goods were assumed to be participating in long distance, complex trade networks. When a female was found with the same goods, the assumption was that they were gifts from her male relatives. In another example, there have been numerous cases where burials were found containing warriors and their weapons, and the grave was assumed to belong to a male without an actual osteological examination even taking place. Many of these have been corrected since the rise in feminist archaeological scholarship.

It’s an important fact to remember when examining burials, that there are more than two genders, and that even in systems were there are 3 or more recognized genders, members of that society can still be transgender. It’s extremely difficult to discern such a thing, especially if they were not recognized by their peers as belonging to another gender besides the one they were assigned at birth. We do not bury ourselves. We are buried by our survivors and ultimately the image of our selves that is presented through mortuary practice is a constructed image presented by those who are hopefully our loved ones. If a person’s family doesn’t recognize who they are, than that image may not passed on with them after death. A trans person today who is buried with the clothing and artifacts of the wrong gender (the gender ascribed at birth) will be unlikely to be recognized as their correct gender in 1000 years. Although the identity of “transgender” as we understand today is a relatively new identity, trans people have always been with humanity. It is only the label, the social identity which has changed.

A female skeleton buried with artifacts typically considered male for that society could mean many things. He may have been a trans man, or perhaps they were a member or a third or other gender. Perhaps she was a woman who took on a man’s gender role in a limited capacity for a short time for social or ritual purposes. In a situation like this, historical documentation and/or ethnographic analogy can be extremely helpful. It’s important to determine how many genders the society in question recognized, and what defined those genders. We often use “man” and “woman” to designate the two genders that most closely correlate with the male and female biological sexes, but as I said earlier, it is impossible to say that a woman from the Americas has the same gender as a woman from India. The societies in question are too different, and so the genders it constructs will be totally different as well.

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