For me, studying the burial practices of the ancient Egyptians gave me a real sense of who they were. This is because you learn a lot from looking at how people bury their loved ones. You learn about the cosmology and religion of the group. I learned that Osiris is the god of the Underworld and he resides in the west. You learn about their material culture thorough what bodies are buried with. The ancient Egyptians were buried with grave goods such as pottery and jewelry that told us about the form and function of these items as well as the symbolic meaning. We can also learn a lot about the technology of a people from studying these items. Are the clay jars created by hand, or thrown on a wheel? How are jewels laid into a necklace, etc?
You learn more about the personal hygiene of the culture. In the case of the ancient Egyptians we learned that they colored their hair, used extensions, and had elaborate hair styles. I learned that men trimmed their facial hair in specific patterns depending on fashion. We learn about politics. For example, if we come across one person in a cemetery who has a lot more grave goods that anyone else, we might assume that they had a position of some power within the community. We also learn about the general socioeconomic status of the settlement. How much did people have? Who had the most? We can learn lots of information from studying the bones of ancient people. We can learn cause of death. We can study bones for wear that may indicate certain professions. We can estimate age at death and determine what that tells us about the range of their lifespan and developmental stages. We can learn so much from looking at bones in a grave!
~Cristina M. Cao