From Ancient Egypt to Ancient Mexico – Mortuary Practices

In class today, we spoke about the Egyptian site Tell ‘el Omari and the Professor told us that one of the more prominent features was that it was discovered that the dead were buried under the house floors and that it shows similar mortuary practice to other pre-pottery Neolithic cultures. I wanted to raise my hand and share that in a previous class, Introduction to Archaeology, we were shown about sites in Mexico, especially Teotihuacan, where they uncovered sites showing mortuary practices of burying the dead under the house floors. My Professor in that class had a specialty of American lithics and had spent time on digs in Mexico and Arizona.

After looking up sites in Mexico, I found a couple of sites, including this one of Balcón de Montezuma (400 – 1200 CE). This site was excavated from 1989 to 1990 by Archaeologist Jesus Narez. This site was representative of the villages found in the Late Classic period of Mesoamerican chronology.

In Mexico, the archaeology site of Teotihuacan shows that some of their mortuary practices in the period between 200 AD and 500 AD included the use of cosmetics before the burial by examining pots of cosmetic pigments. The dead during this time period were also buried underneath the floors of their homes. In the article it says, “Cosmetics were used by the priest carrying out the ceremony and formed a part of the ritual,” Domenech said. “The remains of carbonaceous particles found lead to the belief that aromatic materials were burnt, with the priest painting parts of the body with those pigments.” They also believed that at some point, the bodies were dug up and “redecorated”.

In his lecture, the Professor talked about how in pre-dynastic Egypt, the skulls were thought to be removed and placed in the home. In ancient Mexico, the skull also was sometimes removed or decorated with jewelry and stones.

One thought on “From Ancient Egypt to Ancient Mexico – Mortuary Practices

  1. I thought that the practice of burying the dead under the floor boards of the house was very interesting. I did some research on it myself and found that the Egyptians and the Mexicans weren’t the only ones who actually physically buried their dead underneath their houses, many other cultures had similar rituals. In the Philippines, for example, there is a ritual (from the region of Benguet) where the native people will take the deceased person, set them in a chair next to the house’s main entrance, and blindfold them. They also tie them into the chair by their arms and legs so they can’t fall out. This goes on for eight days while they do a ritual that will send the soul of the person to heaven. Also in the Philippines, the Apayaos people, bury their dead underneath the kitchen area of their homes. Similar to this, but a little outside the home, in Cavite, the native people in the rural areas actually use trees as burial places. When a person becomes elderly or terminally ill, they choose what tree they desire to be interned in, and a small hut is built next to the tree where they stay until their eventual passing. Their body is then placed vertically within the hollowed trunk of the tree. I just found it fascinating how each culture can be similar yet so different in how they treat their dead. Also, how each culture has their own distinct ways to approach burials and the passing of loved ones.

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