It seems that in many places supine burials follow changes in bedding, from fetal nest beds on cave floors and huts to footed beds in the later Metal Ages. Seems to reason that grieving people buried those who will not wake in a comfortable and familiar position. Also, people generally lie in a familiar resting posture in the closing hours of life. Sian Mui of Durham University wrote this in an introduction to a conference on posturing the deceased in burial:
"Postures may ... be used to stimulate an illusion of sleep, to ensure rest for the undead, or even to defy death."
If we accept this premise - that many cultures bury the dead in sleeping pose, then we might be able to ask Folkens' question in reverse - what do the archaeological burials reveal about the sleeping habits of the ancients, particularly the Beakers?
We might correctly assume that Bell Beakers (often buried with pillows and bedding it seems) recreated a fetal sleeping arrangement and comfy enclosure to protect the resting dead (and like us, idealized in death). (A look at Medieval and Renaissance effigies could be compared to the Beaker ideals of virtuous warriorhood and respectable ladyhood in a bedding position familiar to their era)
|"A Sleeping Knight Idealized and Dressed for Battle in Death" (saffron100_uk)|
"In the last days and hours before dying, patients are usually to be found in the supine position. After death as well, people are often place in the supine position. This attitude is in line with the Western historical and cultural notion that the supine position of a dying person expresses dignity... In some non-Western countries, it was traditional to die in foetal posture. Those people were also buried in this position..."In any case, they conclude that comfort preferences vary person to person.
|From a previous Harry Folkens presentation.|
Sleeping is so natural that we may assume there is only one way to do it. But even a quick survey of readers from this blog would quickly reveal that our cultures sleep differently: rising and waking at different times of the day, siestas, opportunistic slumber, daytime alert, sleeping alone as individuals, collectively as a nuclear family, or like hamsters, infant with mother, infant in crib, kids together or individually, with or without clothes, gender segregation, night watches or other nighttime duties.
But now this question. Why are Bell Beaker men and boys differentiated in the burial configuration from women, girls and sometimes small boys in the heading of the grave?
I wonder if gendered burials reflect a sleeping arrangement where genders were segregated at either end of the Beaker cabin. If we assume that each Beaker home represents the habitation of a Yankee nuclear family, then we may assume too much. It's possible two or three families lived in homes along with old uncles, invalids, foreign spouses, night-time travelers, drunk people, very drunk people, orphans, displaced husbands and a host of other people and situations.
Aside from practical realities like screaming babies, vomiting kids and tired men, taboos requiring separation may have been present as well. If Beakers were like American pioneers living with 14 kids in a 16 x 16 cabin, most intimacy occurred outside the home anyway. It's a different way of looking at what we consider an intimate setting.
|Reconstructed Bell Beaker Boat Shaped House, Százhalombatta Archaeological Park, Hungary (Bozor Magdi)|
Rather than Beaker gendered burials being reflective of some kind of sexual duality, could it be that it is just an extension of the modesty and pragmatism expressed at bedtime?
(The past several weeks have been crazy-town. That's slowed Beakerblog down considerably. But things are clearing a bit. Hope to have more in the coming weeks.)
"Burials, Houses, Women and Men in the European Neolithic" (Hodder, 1990)
"Aloofness and Intimacy of Husbands and Wives: a Cross Cultural Study" Whiting and Whiting, 2009
"At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past" (W.W. Norton, 2005)
"Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles" A. Roger Ekirch