Formal disposal of the dead is widely practised today, but that has not always been so. Among prehistoric societies so few burials are encountered that it appears to have been the exception rather than the rule. When did burial and cremation become generalized? What significance did this have for the development of religious belief and human self-awareness? By applying a consistent methodology to archaeological data from two regions (Britain and the Levant) this project will provide a new understanding both of the emergence of religious belief and self-awareness, and changing concepts of what it means to be human. The project will recruit two qualified post-doctoral research assistants to work under the supervision of the PL and academic consultants to collect and analyze available data on burial practices in the two regions, from prehistory to the Roman period. We shall explore the relationship between human beliefs about the body and the afterlife, and changing social and economic circumstances; and whether burials represented in the archaeological record of the two regions result from highly specific selection processes and do not constitute the ‘mainstream’. Concrete outputs will be a series of high-impact publications in the archaeological and death studies literature addressed to academic audiences, presenting and interpreting the results of the project; and the construction of an interactive website inviting comments and reactions from, academic and non-academic audiences. Key outcomes will be heightened awareness of the issue among archaeologists, theologians and anthropologists, and the general public through a popular book. The potential enduring impact of the project is to stimulate a fundamental rethinking of the status of burial in human society and its relationship to beliefs (both secular and religious). It will also establish the study of burial – or its absence – as key to the understanding of ritual practice and changing beliefs.
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