Mari Tõrv will defend her doctoral thesis on 23 May 2016 at 16.15 at UT Senate Hall titled "Persistent Practices. A Multi-Disciplinary Study of Hunter-Gatherer Mortuary Remains from c. 6500–2600 cal. BC, Estonia".
Supervisors: prof Aivar Kriiska,
prof. dr. Berit V. Eriksen,
dr. Liv Nilsson Stutz
Opponent: dr. Rick Schulting (University of Oxford, School of Archaeology)
Summary: The thesis focuses on the question of how death was handled within and among hunter-gatherer communities in Estonia. The study departs from the human remains – both intact skeletons and loose human bones in occupation layers – bringing the human body to the foreground to detect mortuary practices through the lens of archaeothanatology, and to recreate the primary identities of these people by the application of osteological methods and stable isotope studies. The time depth is provided by the radiocarbon dates of bone collagen.
It is shown that all the human remains belonged to inland fishers and coastal hunters of marine mammals, indicating the importance of hunting and gathering subsistence until the mid of 3rd millennium cal. BC. Burials contained the remains of both females, males, and adults and children of all age groups.
The long temporal perspective allowed observing the continuum and change of practices. As indicated by the archaeothanatological analyses, a range of practices were considered as norm. Only a fraction of the population received archaeologically observable handling; the vast majority of these constitute primary inhumations in a variety of body positions either with or without grave goods. Also, clear evidence of practices in multiple episodes was demonstrated. The deceased had been placed in the ground of contemporary settlement sites, cemeteries, and solitary graves close to the hunter-gatherer pathways. However, instead of stressing the differences in grave goods, or in places for the dead, and/or variability in body positions, it is stressed that a unchanging pattern of underlying norms of mortuary practices persisted from the first evidence of mortuary remains in c. 6500 cal. BC until the mid 3rd millennium cal. BC. This core of practices was formed by the immediate handling of the dead, primacy of the corpse, absence of clear separation between life and death, and open character of the mortuary practices that allowed the maintenance and gradual change of mortuary rituals within and among hunter-gatherer communities.