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The persistent presence of the dead: recent excavations at the hunter-gatherer cemetery at Zvejnieki (Latvia)

  • Liv Nilsson Stutz (a1), Lars Larsson (a2) and Ilga Zagorska (a3)

The well-known Mesolithic cemeteries of Northern Europe have long been viewed as evidence of developing social complexity in those regions in the centuries immediately before the Neolithic transition. These sites also had important symbolic connotations. This study uses new and more detailed analysis of the burial practices in one of these cemeteries to argue that much more is involved than social differentiation. Repeated burial in the densely packed site of Zvejnieki entailed large-scale disturbance of earlier graves, and would have involved recurrent encounters with the remains of the ancestral dead. The intentional use of older settlement material in the grave fills may also have signified a symbolic link with the past. The specific identity of the dead is highlighted by the evidence for clay face masks and tight body wrappings in some cases.

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