Friday, October 2, 2015

Mummification was Common in the Isles (Study)

Beginning sometime around 2,500 B.C., Britons started practicing mummification, lasting almost two thousand years.

A previously mummified individual (photo Geoff Morely via Sheffield)

What's big news here isn't the fact that mummification occurred, I've blogged about this before, rather it's that artificial preservation (apparently through mummification) was widespread or commonplace and that it occurred over a long period of time.  Here's the article from Popular Archaeology.

Of course, all that is ever left in damp Britain and Ireland is a skeleton in a cist grave.  The researchers used microscopic analysis to examine decomposition in the early stages after death to reach their conclusion.  These habits begin in the Early Bronze Age and continued to just before the Iron Age.  So there is a considerable period of continuity in burial practice.

It appears that the scope of the project may expand into the Continent to determine if this was widespread (I'll guess probably so).  More from the university website Sheffield UK.

This is in line with topics I've discussed before, one being a possible belief in resurrection [here].


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  2. The dates do seem consistent with other data points regarding the period of cultural continuity or the lack thereof in Britain, and given the mummification if a fairly elaborate process that is never done accidentally in Britain's climate, and almost certainly derives in part from religious beliefs, it makes sense as a fairly meaningful litmus test for cultural continuity..

  3. This probably has more to do with what was going on in ancient Egypt at the time... To me how the beakers related to Ancient Egypt is probably the most interesting unknown, after all people of the Celtic/Wasp phenotype (perhaps the Beakers) had deeply penetrated Egyptian aristocracy and leadership by the 5th dynasty (which started around 2500 BC, ironically). Perhaps there is a connections between megalithic culture and the building of the pyramids...

  4. @Andrew, agree there is a resilient tradition here and strong continuity to the end of the BA


    I've talked at some lenght about Beaker cosmology, religious beliefs and transition to the afterlife via solar boats and the journey in the underworld.

    I've previously speculated they may have believed in bodily resurrection, also on this blog.

    How widespread these beliefs and practices were is hard to tell

  5. @bellbeakerblogger

    Are you familiar with Elliot Smith's The Ancient Egyptians and their Influence upon the Civilization of Europe?

  6. @bellbeakerblogger

    Also, I find this interesting in light of the bellbeakers: - "In the 22nd century BC, the Old Kingdom collapsed into the disorder of the First Intermediate Period, with important consequences for Egyptian religion. Old Kingdom officials had already begun to adopt the funerary rites originally reserved for royalty, but now, less rigid barriers between social classes meant that these practices and the accompanying beliefs gradually extended to all Egyptians, a process called the 'democratization of the afterlife' ... In this new Egyptian state, personal piety grew more important and was expressed more freely in writing, a trend which continued in the New Kingdom." Sounds like Egypt got a healthy dose of hunter-gatherer ancestry (which undeniably tends to lend towards egalitarian societies, not to mention self-expression, and comes from Western Europe).

    1. I haven't heard of the book, I'll look for it.

      Egypt was repeatedly overrun by foreigners from all directions at different times. The period that has the greatest potential of any link with Western European Beaker religion is Naqada IIc in the mid 4th millenium since the pre-Mespotamian influences appear to come from the Western Desert and Central Saharan steppe, also possibly a source for some of the influences culminating in the Beaker phenomenon in Western Iberia at the beginning of the 3rd. (that's my opinion)