Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Deathways Open Doors To Unexpected Cultural Practices

Date:
October 9, 2008
Source:
University at Buffalo
Summary:
Cremation, "air burial," grave cairns, funeral mounds, mummification, belief in life after death -- death practices sacred to one culture are often considered "odd" or even terrifying by another. In every social group throughout history, the disposal of the dead has special significance, and ways of death always fascinate those on the outside looking in, says a professor of history.

Cremation, "air burial," grave cairns, funeral mounds, mummification, belief in life after death -- death practices sacred to one culture are often considered "odd" or even terrifying by another.

Related Articles


The Greeks, for example, were fascinated with the historian Herodotus' description of the ancient Issedonians chopping up their dead into a mixed grill and devouring them in a communal barbeque, something entirely contrary to the Greeks' treatment of their own dead.

In every social group throughout history, the disposal of the dead has special significance, and ways of death always fascinate those on the outside looking in, says Erik Seeman, Ph.D., associate professor of history at the University at Buffalo, where he teaches "Death in American History."

"Beyond that," he says, "deathways illuminate religious meaning and the social life of cultures about which we may know little else."

Seeman's work, which, unlike much in this field, focuses on the deathways of non-European peoples, primarily those of the eastern third of North America and the Caribbean, is being prepared for publication in a book with the working title "Death in the New World."

"Much of my research looks at how deathways marked cultural self-definition and the definition of 'other' in the New World," he says.

"Placing death at the center of an analysis of cross-cultural encounters among Africans, Europeans and Native Americans allows us, perhaps better than through the use of any other conceptual category, to see the world as the participants themselves viewed it."

In fact, Seeman says the examination of deathways is virtually unmatched for understanding cross-cultural encounters that took place centuries ago in the New World.

"For one thing," he says, "death was ubiquitous. Virgin soil epidemics devastated Indian populations; the mortality of slaves on New World plantations was appalling; unfamiliar disease environments decimated Europeans in the Chesapeake and West Indies; and war raged in every corner of the region.

"Second, Christianity, Judaism and the many polytheistic religions of American Indians and Sub-Saharan Africans focused on explaining to believers the meaning of death and the afterlife," he says.

"Because of this," Seeman says, "when individuals met strangers they were interested in the others' deathways. What remains are far more descriptions of mortuary rituals than of such cultural practices as food preparation or music.

"Finally," says Seeman, "how corpses were prepared, what was included in burials and how death was commemorated leave traces in the material record that other cultural forms do not, offering researchers a rich trove of evidence with which to explore cultural and social attitudes and practices outside of deathways."

Seeman's research also looks at how, in the exploitive context of colonial encounters, understanding of deathways was put to manipulative ends by both sides. He demonstrates how missionaries used it to gain native converts, for instance, while some Indians used European fear of post-mortem mutilation to incite horror through scalping.

The book also takes a particular interest in how deathways document the cultural syncretism that, over time, reconciled a vast number of disparate or contradictory beliefs, often by melding practices of cultures ranging from the French and Portuguese to the Iroquois and Congolese who came into contact with one another in the New World from the 15th century on.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University at Buffalo. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University at Buffalo. "Deathways Open Doors To Unexpected Cultural Practices." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 October 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081008151328.htm>.
University at Buffalo. (2008, October 9). Deathways Open Doors To Unexpected Cultural Practices. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081008151328.htm
University at Buffalo. "Deathways Open Doors To Unexpected Cultural Practices." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081008151328.htm (accessed November 25, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) Media is calling it an "underwater Pompeii." Researchers have found ruins off the coast of Delos. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amphipolis Tomb Architraves Reveal Faces

Amphipolis Tomb Architraves Reveal Faces

AFP (Nov. 22, 2014) Faces in an area of mosaics is the latest find by archaeologists at a recently discovered tomb dating back to fourth century BC and the time of Alexander the Great in Greece. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
US Returns Looted Artifacts to Thailand

US Returns Looted Artifacts to Thailand

AFP (Nov. 19, 2014) The United States has returns over 500 vases, bowls, axes, and other ancient artifacts mostly from the Ban Chiang archaeological site which were illegally looted from Thailand decades ago. Duration: 01:13 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins