The mortuary practices of three prehistoric sites in northeast Thailand : an interpretation from the perspective of field anthropology
Willis, Anna Corinna Juanita
Burials from archaeological sites contain important information and differences between them suggest that the members of a community interred their dead in a specific and intentional manner. To form a comprehensive understanding of mortuary practices communication is required between archaeologists and bioarchaeologists. Field anthropology is a French methodology that supports this principle. Combining archaeological, osteological and taphonomic information the original position of the body is conceptualised to assist in understanding the context in which individuals were interred, in a coffin, in a wrapping or in the ground. The aim of this thesis was to undertake a comparative analysis of the positions of individuals from three sites from Northeast Thailand: Ban Lum Khao, Noen U-Loke and Ban Non Wat. Collectively, these cover the period from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, c.2100BC - 500AD providing a good base for investigating regional and temporal differences. A number of objectives were undertaken to achieve this aim. Firstly, to assess whether there were differences in the position of the limbs and extremities between the subadults, males and females and young, middle and old aged adults. Secondly, to assess whether there were differences within the sites or between them. Finally, the positions were interpreted from the perspective of field anthropology to assess whether there were identifiable differences in the burial context. The individuals selected for this study were primary, supine, extended burials. There were 47 from Ban Lum Khao, 113 from Ban Non Wat and 47 from Noen U-Loke. Four paired areas of the skeleton were assessed, the elbows, hands, knees and feet, using photographs, slides, excavation reports and field notes. The elbows and knees were recorded as extended, loosely flexed, flexed or fully flexed from the angle of the respective area. The hands were recorded as beside or on the pelvis, on the abdomen, femur or shoulder. The feet were recorded as plantarflexed, lying on the medial or lateral side, dorsiflexed or disarticulated. The surface that the extremity was positioned, palmar, plantar or dorsal or any other addition information was also noted. The results showed there were few differences in position between subadults, males and females or between the age ranges at any of the sites. The majority of individuals at all sites were buried with their knees extended and their elbows extended or loosely flexed. There were only subtle differences seen in the positions of the hands and feet, however these reflected the context in which they were interred. An interpretation using field anthropology suggests that the majority of individuals were interred in a tight wrapping and that differences between their positions, which correlate to the Bronze and Iron Ages, were a reflection of either the durability of the wrapping or practices associated with the time between the death and interment. The only individuals that differ from this are the very rich burials Bronze Age burials at Ban Non Wat. The majority of these were not tightly wrapped and were interred in wider graves than the rest of the individuals and one appears to have been buried in a coffin.
Advisor: Tayles, Nancy
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Anatomy & Structural Biology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis