Mortuary Practices and the Study of Prehistoric Social Systems

Document Type


Journal/Book Title

Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory


Academic Press, New York

Publication Date





This chapter focuses on the mortuary practices and the study of prehistoric social systems. The study of mortuary practices reflects social phenomena. To evaluate the usefulness of mortuary data for social modeling, two criteria are important. These are the range of social information that can be derived from mortuary remains, and the reliability of burial data as indicators of social phenomena. One of the basic problems in the study of prehistoric societies has been the development of scales on which archaeological societies can be placed for comparative purposes. The scales most frequently used are derived from ethnology. These scales aspire to an ordinal level of measurement, in that a societal typology is developed, in which, kinds of societies are ranked according to increasing degrees of structural complexity and increasing numbers of mechanisms for organizing populations. The use of evolutionary typologies as analogues for archaeological societies has dominated mortuary studies. The chapter presents the examples that illustrate the types of conclusions usually derived when evolutionary typologies are employed. The ethnologists who have developed evolutionary typologies have largely conceptualized social variables as dichotomous, and have utilized such dichotomies as the basis for abstracting societal types.

This document is currently not available here.