Monday, January 5, 2015

Houses of the Dead (Part 2)

This paper dovetails on the previous theme of "Houses for the Dead" begun with a paper by Jan Turek in Part 1.

This doctoral thesis by Maxime N. Brami examines the deliberate, ritualized torching of houses by Neolithic farmers in the Balkans, similar to their ancestors in PPN Anatolia.  Houses were repeatedly torched and rebuilt in the exact same spot.  Brami speculates that the house to be torched contained the remains of family members.

Turek mentions no similar burning practice in Central Europe, however a similar transformation of a habitation to a tomb is suggested.  In any of the examples, the continued reverence or knowledge of a home site, sometimes hundreds of years later is evidence that the site's memory was maintained as a monument.  This was shown in a separate article linked in the previous post on Polish longhouses.  While the Balkan houses burned, the ones of Middle Europe were maintained or entombed for hundreds of years.  Either way, they seemed to have had a life in the after life.

There is no reason to conflate everything into a single hypothesis, however, it does seem reasonable to see a pattern of behavior amongst farming folk.  People and dead people live in a house for several decades, maybe grandma is buried under the floor.  At some point, living people decide to move out.  Maybe it gets a little weird with too many dead people in the walls.

Turek views these behaviors as critical for understanding the development of monumental tombs and tomb re-use by Corded Ware and Bell Beaker peoples in much later times.  If mortuary practices in early times were ancestry-land-entitlement driven, then it is easier to understand why these practices are modified & co-opted by later peoples.  In other words, right to land is through heritage, a genealogy that can be seen in the landscape. 

Title, deed and possession are almost synonymous concepts to a modern person.  Title is more than just a right to something.  Simply buying or killing for land doesn't get you title or peace.  There is one easy way to get title though.  Get married. 

(As a side note, house/tomb torching wasn't limited to the Neolithic Balkans.  It seems a similar tradition was maintained in NE Iberia.  It may have happened other places as well)

House-related practices as markers of the Neolithic expansion from Anatolia to the Balkans.  Bulgarian e-Journal of Archaeology V4, Maxime N. Brami, 2014


  1. "Title, deed and possession are almost synonymous concepts to a modern person." The lawyers among us, however, fully appreciate the delicate dance they undertake with each other.

  2. I just came across this post. Thanks a lot for your interest. The whole thesis is actually accessible online at:
    All the best,