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The social life of human remains: burial rites and the accumulation of capital during the transition from Neolithic to urban societies in the Near East

Brereton, G.D.; (2011) The social life of human remains: burial rites and the accumulation of capital during the transition from Neolithic to urban societies in the Near East. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

The accumulation of capital is a widely recognised, but little studied, feature of early urbanisation in Mesopotamia during the fourth-millennium BC. Current research links the concentration and mobilisation of capital in urban centres to the expansion of cross-regional trade routes. However, the social and cultural mechanisms through which primary accumulation took place remain poorly understood. A related aspect of urban growth is the virtual disappearance of human burials from the archaeological record. This contrasts with earlier traditions where burials were routinely incorporated into domestic contexts. Adapting Weber‟s insights regarding the origins of modern capitalist accumulation in changing modes of religiosity, this research investigates the changing relationship between funerary rituals and wealth consumption. Detailed study of burial practices over the long-term (Late Neolithic through to Late Uruk) will isolate major trends in funerary consumption over time. This will situate the phenomenon of large-scale accumulation within a wider social matrix. The analogous treatment of human remains and artefacts in Late Neolithic funerary contexts highlights complex relationships between persons and objects. Late Neolithic funerary consumption suggests that acquisitive behaviour was morally sanctioned by interaction with the dead. The decreasing importance placed on funerary consumption during the fifth-millennium is reflected in the separation of the adult dead from habitation areas, inhibiting contact with the living. Goods were now channelled through households, and underwent ritually mediated (intramural infant burials) processes of transformation into new commodity forms. Trajectories of accumulation reinforced through provisioning ancestral cults and personal display in death developed during the Early-Middle Uruk period, only to be reversed with the onset of the Urban Revolution. The profound social changes that accompanied the urban expansion transformed conceptions of persons and things. The dead were expelled from the context of the living and the flow of commodities was now regulated by new forms of religious institution.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:The social life of human remains: burial rites and the accumulation of capital during the transition from Neolithic to urban societies in the Near East
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Institute of Archaeology

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