As I was reading about the Dolmens (p. 28), I began to think about the history of both ancient tombs and modern tombstones. The tombs from thousands of years ago were chambers for burying the dead, but now, we have deconstructed the old tomb and taken away one slab of stone to place at the head of a buried body (a.k.a. the tombstone). Even though this may not be the realistic explanation, I bet the people who collected the slabs of stone for the tombs back in the day got really tired of hauling around huge chunks of stone and finally realized that it would be easier to just find smaller stones that could still be monumental and honor the dead, but in a simpler, more space-efficient way. This probably isn’t how it actually went, but it got me thinking. Anyways, it’s interesting how much effort the Neolithic people put into their burial processes compared to what we do now. They built large, intricate chambers with beautifully decorated walls and symbolic associations to honor the dead, but in today’s society, the body is placed in a much smaller, minimally decorated tomb (commonly known as a casket) and buried under Earth’s surface among other “personal tombs” in the arrangement of a cemetery. Does having lighter-labor burial processes/memorials mean we have less respect for the dead than the Neolithic people? I would say no; we have just evolved into doing a lot of things in the quickest, simplest way possible. We still honor the dead in many different ways, but their resting places are made personal with more of an emotional effort than a physical effort.
In today’s culture, the living and the dead “interact” most commonly in cemeteries or at memorial sites. Men, women, children, and the elderly visit cemeteries to spend time with their loved ones who have passed, even though only the body remains and cannot be seen. The usual marker of the area of burial is the gravestone which labels the deceased individual and usually includes a couple more words of remembrance. Similarly to the Neolithic people who made tombs of stone, we use slabs of stone as memorials for the dead because stone is everlasting. Although our society no longer uses tombs, there are several memorial sites -some larger than others- for remembering those who have died. Examples of the larger ones would include Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 memorial. We also recognize national holidays like Memorial Day to honor people’s lives as well. The honoring and remembering of the dead has not stopped, but the burial processes have changed significantly over time.
I know it’s been said before, but technology is pretty amazing. After reading National Geographic‘s “Face of 9,500-Year-Old Man Revealed for First Time” I learned that researchers were able to reconstruct the face of the original Jericho Skull that was discovered and dug up by Kathleen Kenyon in 1953. By using 3-D printing, digital imaging, and forensic reconstruction techniques, they found out that the skull belonged to a male who was about forty years old and had a broken nose. Micro-CT scans were used to reveal these facts. There are seven Neolithic skulls present in the British Museum and each was stuffed with soil to support the facial bones and covered in wet plaster to make facial features on the skull. The reason behind this was to try and recreate the appearance of the dead person (because scrapbooking didn’t exist yet and they wanted to remember what the person looked like). To get the soil into the cranium, a hole had to be made in the back of the person’s head. After being “stuffed”, the hole was covered with clay. 9,500-year-old fingerprints were recently found on the clay, which I think is incredible. Unfortunately, since there was not a clear writing system in this era to record the practiced beliefs, researchers will never know the exact function and meaning of these plastered skulls. However, several thousands of years later, modern technology is able to work magic and create a three-dimensional, realistic human face that would have been the face of a Neolithic man.
Romey, Kristin. “Face of 9,500-Year-Old Man Revealed for First Time”. National Geographic. 5 January 2017. Source.
German, S. (2018). “Jericho”. Khan Academy. Khan Academy. Source.