The Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial

By Paul Pettitt

© 2006 – Routledge

308 pages

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Paperback: 9780415354905
pub: 2010-10-12
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Hardback: 9780415354899
pub: 2010-10-14
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About the Book

Humans are unique in that they expend considerable effort and ingenuity in disposing of the dead. Some of the recognisable ways we do this are visible in the Palaeolithic archaeology of the Ice Age. The Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial takes a novel approach to the long-term development of human mortuary activity – the various ways we deal with the dead and with dead bodies. It is the first comprehensive survey of Palaeolithic mortuary activity in the English language.

Observations in the modern world as to how chimpanzees behave towards their dead allow us to identify ‘core’ areas of behaviour towards the dead that probably have very deep evolutionary antiquity. From that point, the palaeontological and archaeological records of the Pliocene and Pleistocene are surveyed. The core chapters of the book survey the mortuary activities of early hominins, archaic members of the genus Homo, early Homo sapiens, the Neanderthals, the Early and Mid Upper Palaeolithic, and the Late Upper Palaeolithic world.

Burial is a striking component of Palaeolithic mortuary activity, although existing examples are odd and this probably does not reflect what modern societies believe burial to be, and modern ways of thinking of the dead probably arose only at the very end of the Pleistocene. When did symbolic aspects of mortuary ritual evolve? When did the dead themselves become symbols? In discussing such questions, The Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial offers an engaging contribution to the debate on modern human origins. It is illustrated throughout, includes up-to-date examples from the Lower to Late Upper Palaeolithic, including information hitherto unpublished.


'This volume by Pettitt, which represents the first comprehensive survey of Palaeolithic mortuary activity in the English language…, is a long overdue, and very welcome, addition to the large corpus of literature on the subject… [it] forms a useful scholarly text; both for the Palaeolithic student and researcher, and on discussion with colleagues, those interested in burial archaeology as a whole. While the title suggests a clear focus on Palaeolithic human burial, this actually undersells the scope of the volume, whose striking feature is the consideration of the full range of past hominin mortuary activity.' - Archaeological Review from Cambridge

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: death and the Palaeolithic 2. Primate roots for early hominid morbidity and mortuary activity 3. From morbidity to mortuary activity: developments from the australopithecines to Homo heidelbergensis 4. From funerary caching to the earliest burials of early Homo sapiens 5. The Neanderthals 6. The first Homo sapiens populations in Europe: Early and Mid Upper Palaeolithic funerary activities ~ 35,000 – 21,000 BP 7. From fragmentation to collectivity: human relics, burials and the origins of cemeteries in the Late Upper Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic 8. The dead as symbols: the evolution of human mortuary activity

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology