Facedown burials in ancient times was a way to humiliate the dead

June 24th, 2009 - 2:06 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic Washington, June 24 (ANI): A new research has suggested that burying the dead facedown in ancient times wasn’t unusual or accidental, but a widely used way to humiliate the dead.

According to a report in National Geographic News, the first global study on the facedown burials suggests that it was a custom used across societies to disrespect or humiliate the dead.

Lead study author Caroline Arcini of Sweden’s National Heritage Board detected a common thread in the burials she studied, “that society sanctioned this apparently negative treatment of the dead.”

The unnerving burials often appear to signify “behavior that is out of the norm-it is not accepted, what (the dead) have done,” she said.

Shaming the dead “is most probably a deep-rooted behavior in humankind,” she added.

Arcini searched existing literature to make the first ever catalog of facedown burials from around the world.

She found descriptions of more than 600 bodies from 215 grave sites, from Peru to South Korea.

Dating from 26,000 years ago all the way up to World War I, these so-called prone burials include men, women, and children, though the majority were men.

Facedown burials occurred in all sorts of graves, including single graves, double graves, and mass graves.

In locations with several prone burials, the dead were often buried in shallow graves toward the edge of the cemetery, most of them without coffins.

According to Arcini, the phenomenon has various possible explanations.

Some people had their hands and feet tied together, suggesting they had been criminals or prisoners of war.

Other burials indicate the practice was linked to social status, as in the case of 80 bodies found in a Mexican cemetery that dates to between 1150 and 850 B.C.

There, 6 men are sitting in their graves, while the other 74 are in a prone position, Arcini noted.

“It might be that the people (buried in a sitting position) are high priests, and the others are in a lower social position,” she said.

The archaeologist highlights religious and cultural conflict as another potential factor.

“The highest frequency of facedown burials in Sweden, for instance, dates to the period of the Viking age when Christianity arrived in the region,” Arcini said.

“Pagan Vikings may not have accepted those who converted to Christianity and may have buried the bodies in a way that reflected their dislike,” she explained.

“Rule-breaking nuns and convicted witches were also buried in prone positions,” she added. (ANI)

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