Hominin evolutionary thanatology from the mortuary to funerary realm: the
palaeoanthropological bridge between chemistry and culture
Paul Pettitt
Philosophical transactions of the royal society B, 2018

I suggest that the most profound innovation of the hominins was the incorporation of places into the commemoration of the dead, and propose a falsifiable mechanism for why this came about; and I suggest that the pattern of the earliest burials fits with modern hunter–gatherer belief systems about death, and how these vary by social complexity. Finally, I propose several research questions pertaining to the social context of funerary practices, suggesting how a hominin evolutionary thanatology may contribute not only to our understanding of human behavioural evolution, but to a wider thanatology of the animal kingdom.

Landscapes of the dead. The evolution of human mortuary activity from body to place in Palaeolithic Europe.
Paul Pettitt
Durham University Library, 2015

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the appearance of elaborate burials and ‘art’ during the European Upper Palaeolithic may be confidently interpreted as reflecting some kind of underlying assumptions relating to symbolic systems and cosmological beliefs, even if the specific meaning of these phenomena will never be known to us. But how far can one push back the recognition that hominins believed in the persistence and agency of the dead?

From the Sunghir Children to the Romito Dwarf. Aspects of the Upper Paleolithic Funerary Landscape
Vincenzo Formicola
Current anthropology, 2007

some of the most spectacular multiple burials include a severely deformed individual. This is the case of the extraordinarily ornamented double burial of the Sunghir children (Russia), the triple interment of Dolní Věstonice (Moravia), which includes young individuals lying in unusual positions, and the adolescent dwarf from Romito Cave (Italy), buried together with a woman under the engraving of a bull. These findings point to the possibility that human sacrifices were part of the ritual activity of these populations and provide clues on the complexity and symbolism pervading Upper Paleolithic societies as well as on the perception of “diversity” and its links to magical‐religious beliefs.

On the report “From the Sunghir Children to the Romito Dwarf“
Vit Lang
Current Anthropology, 2007

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The aim of the Formicola’s contribution (Current Anthropology.2007.48: 446-453) is to point to a possibility of human sacrifices in the Upper Paleolithic in Europe.Nevertheless, the article fails to give real grounds for supposing there were such practices.

Intentional human burial: Middle Paleolithic (last glaciation) beginnings
Yuri Smirnov
Journal of world prehistory

Middle Paleolithic groups invented almost all the basic ways of treating a corpse before burial and almost all the ways of burial itself. They seem to have developed a “cult of the dead,” based upon dualities such as concealment vs exposure of the body, burial of the body intact vs disarticulated, burial of the whole body vs parts of it only, and so on. It is shown that, in the Middle Paleolithic, there were centers of taphological activity, that inhumation was selectively practiced on only a small minority of the population, that men were buried much more often than women, and that the patterns of burial seem to have been independent of identifiable factors such as human physical type or level of technology.

Smirnov 1989 burials

Grave Shortcomings: The Evidence for Neandertal Burial
Gargett et al.
Current anthropology, 1989


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