Skip to main content
×
Home

Cleaning the dead: Neolithic ritual processing of human bone at Scaloria Cave, Italy

  • John Robb (a1), Ernestine S. Elster (a2), Eugenia Isetti (a3), Christopher J. Knüsel (a4), Mary Anne Tafuri (a5) and Antonella Traverso (a6)...
Abstract
Abstract

Detailed taphonomic and skeletal analyses document the diverse and often unusual burial practices employed by European Neolithic populations. In the Upper Chamber at Scaloria Cave in southern Italy, the remains of some two dozen individuals had been subjected to careful and systematic defleshing and disarticulation involving cutting and scraping with stone tools, which had left their marks on the bones. In some cases these were not complete bodies but parts of bodies that had been brought to the cave from the surrounding area. The fragmented and commingled burial layer that resulted from these activities indicates complex secondary burial rites effecting the transition from entirely living to entirely dead individuals.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Author for correspondence; Email: jer39@cam.ac.uk
References
Hide All
Beckett J.F. 2011. Interactions with the dead: a taphonomic analysis of burial practices in three megalithic tombs in County Clare, Ireland. European Journal of Archaeology 14: 394418. http://dx.doi.org/10.1179/146195711798356719
Boulestin B., Zeeb-Lanz A., Jeunesse C., Haack F., Arbogast R.-M. & Denaire A.. 2009. Mass cannibalism in the Linear Pottery Culture at Herxheim (Palatinate, Germany). Antiquity 83: 968–82.
Buikstra J. & Ubelaker D.H.. 1994. Standards for data collection from human skeletal remains. Fayetteville: Arkansas Archaeological Survey.
Cassano S. & Manfredini A.. 1983. Studi sul Neolitico del Tavoliere della Puglia (British Archaeological Reports international series 160). Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
Conati Barbaro C. In preparation. Analysis of chipped stone from the 1978 excavations, in Elster E.S., Isetti E., Robb J. & Traverso A. (ed.) Scaloria Cave. Los Angeles (CA): Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Danforth L. 1982. The death rituals of rural Greece. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.
Duday H. 2009. The archaeology of the dead: lectures in archaeothanatology. Oxford: Oxbow.
Elster E.S. In preparation. Analysis of the chipped stone from the 1979 excavations, in Elster E.S., Isetti E., Robb J. & Traverso A. (ed.) Scaloria Cave. Los Angeles (CA): Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Elster E.S., Isetti E., Robb J. & Traverso A. (ed.). In preparation. Scaloria Cave. Los Angeles (CA): Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Emberling G., Robb J., Speth J. & Wright H.. 2002. Kunji Cave: Early Bronze Age burials in Luristan. Iranica Antiqua 37: 47104. http://dx.doi.org/10.2143/IA.37.0.118
Graziosi P. 1975. Nuove manifestazioni d’arte mesolitica e neolitica nel Riparo Gaban presso Trento. Rivista di Scienze Preistoriche 30: 237–78.
Hertz R. 2004. A contribution to the study of the collective representation of death, in Robben A. (ed.) Death, mourning and burial: a cross-cultural reader: 213–22. Oxford: Blackwell.
Huntington R. & Metcalf P.. 1991. Celebrations of death: the anthropology of mortuary ritual. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jones G.B.D. 1987. Apulia. London: Society of Antiquaries.
Kellehear A. 2007. A social history of dying. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511481352
Knauft B. 1989. Body images in Melanesia: cultural substances and natural metaphors, in Feher M. (ed.) Fragments for a history of the human body, part III: 192278. New York: Zone.
Knüsel C. & Outram A.. 2006. Fragmentation of the body: comestibles, compost, or customary rite?, in Gowland R. & Knüsel C. (ed.) The social archaeology of funerary remains: 253–78. Oxford: Oxbow.
Knüsel C., Robb J. & Tafuri M.A.. In preparation. Funerary practices: the evidence from burial taphonomy, in Elster E.S., Isetti E., Robb J. & Traverso A. (ed.) Scaloria Cave. Los Angeles (CA): Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Leach E. 1976. Culture and communication: the logic by which symbols are connected. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511607684
Olsen S.L. & Shipman P.. 1994. Cut-marks and peri-mortem treatment of skeletal remains on the Northern Plains, in Owsley D.W. & Jantz R.L. (ed.) Skeletal biology of the Great Plains: migration, warfare, health, and subsistence: 377–87. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press.
Orschiedt J. & Haidle M.N.. 2006. The LBK enclosure of Herxheim. Theatre of war or ritual centre? References from osteoarchaeological investigations. Journal of Conflict Archaeology 2: 153–67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/157407706778942330
Outram A., Knüsel C., Knight S. & Harding A.. 2005. Understanding complex fragmented assemblages of human and animal remains: a fully integrated approach. Journal of Archaeological Science 32: 1699–710. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2005.05.008
Parker Pearson M., Chamberlain A., Jay M., Marshall P., Pollard J., Richards C., Thomas J., Tilley C. & Welham K.. 2009. Who was buried at Stonehenge? Antiquity 83: 2339.
Quagliati Q. 1936. La Puglia preistorica. Roma: Società per la Storia Patria per la Puglia.
Rellini I., Ciampalini A. & Firpo M.. In preparation. Geoarcheological studies, in Elster E.S., Isetti E., Robb J. & Traverso A. (ed.) Scaloria Cave. Los Angeles (CA): Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Rellini U. 1934. La più antica ceramica dipinta d’Italia. Roma: Collana Meridionale Editrice.
Robb J. 1991. Neolithic skeletal remains from the Grotta Scaloria: the 1979 excavations. Rivista di Antropologia 69: 111–24.
Robb J. 2002. Time and biography, in Hamilakis Y., Pluciennik M. & Tarlow S. (ed.) Thinking through the body: archaeologies of corporeality: 145–63. London: Kluwer/Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4615-0693-5
Robb J. 2007. The early Mediterranean village: agency, material culture and social change in Neolithic Italy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Robb J. 2013. Creating death: an archaeology of dying, in Stutz L. Nilsson & Tarlow S. (ed.) The Oxford handbook of the archaeology of death and burial: 441–58. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199569069.001.0001
Robb J., Tafuri M.A. & Knüsel C.. In preparation. The human bone assemblage, in Elster E.S., Isetti E., Robb J. & Traverso A. (ed.) Scaloria Cave. Los Angeles (CA): Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Russell M. 1987. Mortuary practices at the Krapina Neandertal site. American Journal of Physical Anthropology: 381–97. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.1330720311
Smith M. & Brickley M.. 2009. People of the long barrows: life, death and burial in the Earlier Neolithic. Stroud: History Press.
Tafuri M.A., O’Connell T., Robb J., Knüsel C. & Fullagar P.. In preparation. Mobility, landscape, and the function of the cave: evidence from strontium isotopes, in Elster E.S., Isetti E., Robb J. & Traverso A. (ed.) Scaloria Cave. Los Angeles (CA): Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Teschler-Nicola M., Gerold F., Bujatti-Narbeshuber M., Prohaska T., Latkoczy C., Stingeder G. & Watkins M.. 1999. Evidence of genocide 7000 BP—Neolithic paradigm and geo-climatic reality. Collegium Antropologicum 23: 437–50.
Tinè S. 1983. Passo di Corvo e la civiltà neolitica del Tavoliere. Genova: Sagep.
Tinè S. & Isetti E.. 1980a. Culto neolitico delle acque e recenti scavi nella Grotta Scaloria. Bullettino di Paletnologia Italiana 82: 3170.
Tinè S. & Isetti E.. 1980b. Recenti scavi nella Grotta Scaloria. Atti del convegno archeologico “Civiltà e culture antiche tra Gargano e Tavoliere”: 77–96.
Toussaint M. 2011. Intentional cutmarks on an Early Mesolithic human calvaria from Margaux Cave (Dinant, Belgium). American Journal of Physical Anthropology 144: 100107. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.21375
Trigger B.G. 1969. The Huron: farmers of the north. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Turner V. 1967. The forest of symbols: aspects of Ndembu ritual. Ithaca (NY): Cornell University Press.
Ubelaker D. 1974. Reconstruction of demographic profiles from ossuary skeletal samples. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press.
van Gennep A. 1977. The rites of passage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Villa P., Courtin J., Helmer D., Shipman P., Bouville C., Mahieu E., Belluomini G. & Branca M.. 1986. Un cas de cannibalisme au Néolithique: boucherie et rejet de restes humains et animaux dans la grotte de Fontbrégoua à Salernes (Var). Gallia Préhistoire 29: 143–71. http://dx.doi.org/10.3406/galip.1986.2243
Wahl J. & König H.G.. 1987. Anthropologisch-traumatologiche Untersuchung der menschlichen Skelettreste aus dem Bandkeramischen Massengrab bei Talheim, Kreis Heilbronn. Fundberichte aus Baden-Württemberg 12: 65193.
Waldron T. 1987. The relative survival of the human skeleton: implications for palaeopathology, in Boddington A., Garland A. & Janaway R. (ed.) Death, decay and reconstruction: approaches to archaeology and forensic science: 149–62. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Weiberg D. & Westcott D.. 2008. Estimating the timing of long bone fracture: correlation between the postmortem interval, bone moisture content, and blunt force trauma fracture characteristics. Journal of Forensic Science 53: 1028–34.
White T.D. 1986. Cut marks on the Bodo cranium: a case of prehistoric defleshing. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 69: 503509. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.1330690410
White T.D. 1992. Prehistoric cannibalism at Mancos 5MTUTR-2346. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.
Whitehouse R. 1992. Underground religion: cult and culture in prehistoric Italy. London: Accordia Research Centre.
Whittle A. & Wysocki M.. 1998. Parc le Breos, Gowen, transepted long cairn, west Glamorgan: date, contents and context. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 64: 139–82. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0079497X00002206
Winn S. & Shimabuku D.. 1988. The heritage of two subsistance strategies: preliminary report on the excavations at the Grotta Scaloria, southeastern Italy, 1978. Halifax: St Mary’s University.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords:

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 7
Total number of PDF views: 88 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 522 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.