Wrapping the dead: an investigation of the Bronze Age burial mounds of southern Scandinavia through a wrapping analysis

Harris, S. (2014) Wrapping the dead: an investigation of the Bronze Age burial mounds of southern Scandinavia through a wrapping analysis. In: Harris, S. and Douny, L. (eds.) Wrapping and Unwrapping Material Culture: Archaeological and Anthropological Perspectives. Series: Publications of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (64). Left Coast Press: Walnut Creek, pp. 115-134. ISBN 9781611328875

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Publisher's URL: https://www.routledge.com/9781611328875


Bronze Age burials across Europe frequently contain evidence of organic materials such as textiles, leather and basketry, that were used to clothe, wrap, fold around, cover and contain the inhumed or cremated human remains. Beyond the identification of materials, a key question in the analysis of these organic materials is to identify the sequence of wrappings. Where preservation permits, it appears that the human remains were wrapped in multiple layers of materials. Furthermore, the sequence of wrapping which relates to enclosing the burials often extends beyond these organic layers as the bodies are subsequently contained in coffins or pots, barrows or cists. The presence of these multiple layers of wrapping and layering around a central content poses a particular set of questions for archaeologists. Archaeologists recognise individual layers, but more difficult to answer are the questions: why did people wrap and cover their dead in multiple layers and what did this form of wrapping do? In this chapter I present examples of the archaeological evidence of the multiple layers of textiles, leather, wood, stone and earth that wrap and cover an inhumation burial in Bronze Age southern Scandinavia. The method of investigating layers is consciously presented from a wrapping perspective, by describing the addition of layers to the body. This contrasts to an unwrapping perspective describing the removal of layers, which is the way archaeologists encounter archaeological evidence through excavation or artefact analysis. Switching to a wrapping method allows the archaeologist to focus on the process by which the dead were buried rather than discovered. From this perspective, I argue that these multiple layers of wrapping were used not only to protect, contain and enclose the corpse, but that they also provided a material expression of the transformation of the contents within. As a commonly reoccurring phenomenon, the wrapping of the corpse represents a reordering of the social world following death.

Item Type:Book Sections
Keywords:Archaeology, textiles, Bronze Age, burial, Denmark, Scandinavia.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Harris, Dr Susanna
Authors: Harris, S.
Subjects:C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CC Archaeology
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Archaeology
Publisher:Left Coast Press
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