Materialising the afterlife: the long cist in early medieval Scotland

Maldonado, A. (2016) Materialising the afterlife: the long cist in early medieval Scotland. In: Russell, A., Pierce, E., Maldonado, A. and Campbell, L. (eds.) Creating Material Worlds The Uses of Identity in Archaeology. Oxbow Books Ltd.: Oxford, pp. 39-62. ISBN 9781785701801

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The emergence of inhumation cemeteries is a phenomenon of the mid-first millennium AD across Western Europe. They have been explained as the product of various historical processes, whether the rise of Christianity, the rise of ‘barbarian’ ethnicity or the rise of ‘the individual’. Such models remain unsatisfactory, since they treat the appearance of graves as the logical effect of specific causes, rather than allowing them a role in creating these historical trends. Recent theoretical approaches emphasise the way mortuary rituals actively created new pasts and reconceptualised futures, rather than storing fixed episodic memories to be accessed when necessary. If so, then the point of performing a ritualised funerary act is precisely the opposite of sealing an identity like a time capsule. The emergence of inhumation cemeteries in Late Iron Age Scotland (AD 400-650) can be seen as the materialisation of death, born out of changing attitudes toward the body and personhood in this time of rapid geopolitical upheaval. Instead of seeing inhumations as snapshots of a person, a socially-constructed and historically-contingent concept, this approach requires a more dynamic role for funerary practices as productive of social identity. A further implication is that such identities were altered unpredictably as conceptions of personhood continued to change during subsequent funerary events. In order to show these processes in action, this paper will track the development, use and decline of a single type of grave, the stone-lined long cist characteristic of Late Iron Age burial in northern Britain. This has been variously used as evidence for specific ethnic and religious affiliations such as ‘Picts’ or ‘Celtic Christians’, but the distribution and dating of this burial rite do not conform to any strict social boundaries. Studying the way long cists functioned at the funeral and within the wider cemetery illustrates how the materiality of inhumation was productive, not me

Item Type:Book Sections
Keywords:Scotland, early Christianity, burial, ethnicity, identity.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Maldonado, Dr Adrian
Authors: Maldonado, A.
Subjects:C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CC Archaeology
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Archaeology
Publisher:Oxbow Books Ltd.
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