Behavioral Variability in Mortuary Deposition: A Modern Material Culture Study



This paper examines critically several key assumptions that have guided many archaeological interpretations of prehistoric mortuary assemblages. It is argued that more sophisticated models of mortuary deposition need to be incorporated into research that attempts to reconstruct community structure and other sociological variables from variation in grave assemblages. To illustrate this point, and to begin to build such models, a study of artifacts deposited in mortuary contexts was conducted by the author in a major urban center in Arizona in 1996. Several different behavioral pathways through which objects enter mortuary contexts are identified in this study, and some general material correlates for each are specified. This study also provides a vehicle for exploring preliminarily how, and to what extent, various forms of mortuary deposition are related to the social identities of the deceased. Finally, a synthetic model is developed which seeks to explain variation in mortuary deposition in terms of behavioral interactions between the living, on the one hand, and the deceased and various classes of material culture, on the other. It is hoped that the general models and material correlates developed through this study can be elaborated by prehistorians to bolster inferences drawn from specific mortuary populations and to explore previously-uncharted realms of mortuary behavior in the past.

Keywords: Mortuary archaeology, Anthropology of death & burial, Archaeological method & theory, Behavioral archaeology, Modern material culture studies

How to Cite: LaMotta, V. M. (2001) “Behavioral Variability in Mortuary Deposition: A Modern Material Culture Study”, Arizona Anthropologist. 14(0).