Mortuary Ritual and Social Status

While reading the chapter assigned to us this week, I paused at one of the “boxes” because its topic, mortuary analysis, caught my eye. At first, when the author criticized Binford’s claim that “the structural complexity of mortuary ritual should be directly correlated with status systems within a society,” I disagreed. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the higher one stood on the social ladder, the more elaborate their burial process would be.

This assumption, however, isn’t always true, and it took me a second to realize this. The example that the book uses refers to the King of Saudi Arabia, who can be credited as an extremely wealthy and influential man. His burial process doesn’t reflect this though, because he is simply buried in an uncomplicated grave, with only a shroud carrying him. In class we learned that the regions of the Tell el-O’mar and Ma’adi were at one point very similar settlements. People of these regions both lived in oval houses, some of their characteristics were similar to those in Levant, and they were both Predynastic. I realize that there are also many differences, but in general, they have many similar aspects. However, while they are similar in terms of how advanced their societies were and in terms of social classes, their mortuary practices were different. The people in Tell el-O’mar buried their dead under their houses, while in Ma’adi, a cemetery was found, which was where most of the dead were placed.

Of course, one can’t argue the extreme for either side, because in some cases, Binford’s claim is true. Take our modern society in the U.S. It is common for those who have passed to be buried in a cemetery. However, in general, those with more money have the choice to purchase large headstones or hold elaborate funerals while those who aren’t as wealthy don’t have the choice, and hold simpler and smaller funerals. So in a way, burial practices do correlate with status within the society. As was proven in the chapter, however, this isn’t always the case, and exceptions to the rule must be kept in mind when making assumptions, not just about burial practices but life in general.