Archaeological Evidence of Atypical Burials in the Middle Ages

Authors

  • Monika Milosavljević Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.21301/eap.v16i3.9

Keywords:

funerary archaeology, atypical burials, Middle Ages, marginalization, stigma

Abstract

The research into the Medieval necropolises in the territory of present-day Serbia has established a relatively standardized mode of interment of the bodies of men, women, and children. The deceased were laid supine oriented west to east, with their head to the west. This paper addresses the deviations from this practice recorded in the necropolises dated into the period from the 10th to the 15th centuries. The evidence is critically discussed on the individuals oriented contrary to the established standard, the ones buried in the foetal position, the deceased thrown into the burial pit or laid prone, facing downward.

The aim of the paper is to raise the question who were these people, deprived of the prescriptive Christian funeral and the adequate treatment of their bodies in death. The research is based on the precept that there is a correlation between the persons laid in extraordinary positions in their graves, and the outcasts, stigmatized and marginalized individuals.

The paper is based upon the theoretical basis that postulates the burial and the treatment of a dead body as the community’s encounter with a social loss and the additional unwanted outcome of death – the cadaver. Additionally, the modes of marginalization and the generation of the marginalized in a society through the deprivation of a decent burial are discussed from various perspectives, starting with the ideas of Robert E. Park, Erving Goffman and Elisa Perego.

Regardless of the fact that the phenomenon of the atypically buried individuals has not been duly investigated in the Serbian Medieval archaeology, the analysis of the evidence shows that contexts corresponding to this type are registered at no less than 19 sites. In order to offer a more precise answer to the question which of these individuals have indeed been marginalized and why, it is essential to conduct physical-anthropological analyses, present in only two instances treated here.

Considering the quality of the data at the disposal, the paper reaches the conclusion that the individuals laid contrary to the norm (with the exception of children), thrown into the burial pit, or laid prone facing downward, are indeed the marginalized ones. Particularly are indicative the situations where more than one parameter of stigmatization is present in one funerary context. The suggestion is put forward that the flexed individuals laid in foetal position are the ones who could not have been laid prone due to some illness, such as muscular atrophy of paralysis. The extraordinary treatment of some new-borns and children, buried under the stećci, raises the issue of the social position of children in this cultural context.

In spite of the limitations of reinterpretation of old evidence, the potential is demonstrated of the research integrating various lines of evidence: archaeological, physical-anthropological, ethnographic, historiographic, and legal-historic.

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Published

2021-11-16

How to Cite

Milosavljević, Monika. 2021. “Archaeological Evidence of Atypical Burials in the Middle Ages”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 16 (3):835–865. https://doi.org/10.21301/eap.v16i3.9.