Access to Origins: Affines, Ancestors, and Aristocrats

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The other is the failure to define terms. As discussed in chapter 1, who may become an ancestor varies cross-culturally. McAnany and Helms moved the study of ancestors beyond the processual insights of Saxe-Goldstein and laid the conceptual foundations for more nuanced and ethnographically informed work of the twenty-first century. We then review the ways in which archaeologists have identified and studied ancient ancestors in China and Europe. Two other key world regions, Mesoamerica and the Andes, are dealt with elsewhere in this vol- ume i. Finally, we outline the archaeological evidence that has been used to identify ancestors in the archaeological record and to reconstruct the roles of ancestors in past societies.

These lines of evi- dence include funerary remains, archaeological features and landscapes, representational imagery, and documentary sources. Critical Concepts in the Archaeology of Ancestors As an archaeological concept, ancestors have their roots in the study of cemetery structure by processual archaeologists. Perhaps the most widely known reference linking the deceased with access to resources was the dissertation of Arthur Saxe Hageman hypotheses regarding the social implications of mortuary practices against ethnographic data from West Africa, New Guinea, and the Philippines.

The eighth hypothesis is the one most relevant to the archaeology of an- cestors. In Hypothesis 8, Saxe stated that, to the degree that crucial but re- stricted resources are accessible through lineal descent, social groups will maintain formal disposal areas cemeteries, charnel houses, or mortuary structures for their dead When a resource is scarce or access is competitive, the dead will be buried in cemeteries spatially associated with that resource.

The more formal and structured the disposal area, the greater the likelihood that the cemetery was linked to a corporate group Goldstein —61, The deceased members of the group were interred in formal, bounded areas maintained by their descendants, who were therefore indebted to proof them for access to land and other resources. Building on the foundations established by Saxe and Goldstein, archae- ologists in the s began to explore ancestors as an explicit archaeo- logical concept e.

Carla Antonaccio sought the Greek origins of veneration of heroes and ances- tors in Bronze and Iron Age cemeteries, where she documented reentry and reuse of tombs as well as evidence of feasting and libations. Veneration occurred at altars, shrines, and tombs see also de Polignac —; Whitley — The Greek record, like that of Neolithic and Shang China, indicates that the form and frequency of interaction with ances- tors were fluid phenomena that varied with social complexity, political organization, and ideological concerns.

Ian Morris focused on the ideological components of the ma- nipulation of the dead in his application of the Saxe-Goldstein hypothesis to classical Greece and Rome. Citing Ahern and Glazier , he found no consistent relationship among bounded disposal areas for the dead, ancestral rites, and land tenure. Morris concluded that the Saxe-Goldstein hypothesis, while broadly ap- plicable, simplified the relationship between formal cemeteries and prop- erty, obscuring ideological motivations and political maneuvering.

Links among corporate groups, the deceased, property, and ideology have been intensively explored in two landmark publications on ancestors: in Meso- america by Patricia McAnany and in comparative perspective by Mary Helms Ancestors, Kinship, and Kingship In Living with the Ancestors, McAnany examines the interrelated phenomena of ancestor veneration, lineage, and kingship among the Maya.


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McAnany argued that ancestors played key roles in the organization of society, rights to resources, and the devel- opment and institutionalization of social inequalities. Patrilineal ances- tors were of greatest importance in determining lineage membership, with matrilineal ancestors relevant only among the nobility Regardless of socioeconomic status, ancestor veneration included feasting, domestic rituals, bloodletting and sacrifice, and the creation of material representations of progenitors. Among the nobility, texts and iconography on pottery, wood, and stone were used to record the ritual acts of ancestors and the genealogies of their descendants McAnany — Ancestors were buried either in residential contexts or in nonresidential structures, such as pyramids.

Hageman ancestral hall Freedman , []. These locations facilitated interaction between the Maya, their ancestors, and the cosmologically charged places in which the latter were interred McAnany — McAnany suggested that the Maya practice of remodeling residential complexes is indicative of descent rights and the proof process of inheritance, such that stratigraphic sequences of burial, struc- ture renovation, and dedicatory deposits reflected genealogical sequences —66, As in China, ancestors were the conceptual basis of social inequalities within and between lineages.

Inequalities within lin- eages are reflected in residential architecture and in burials—similar to the ways in which elaboration of ancestral halls and grave sites material- ized differences between Chinese lineages. McAnany argued that, from the Late Preclassic into the Classic AD — period, ancestors were key to the transformation of the Low- land Maya from a relatively egalitarian, agrarian society to one dominated by divine kings. Ancestor veneration was appropriated by a few and sa- cralized, emplaced, and politicized in order to sanction elite power and authority.

Evidence for this can be found in Classic Maya iconography and texts. Agrarian images of inheritance and regeneration, often featur- ing maize, appear in carved public monuments Taube Clas- sic texts describe elite bloodlines and marriages and often link the royal line with mythic creators McAnany — Image, genealogy, ritual, and place were all used to naturalize the relationship between ancestors and political office.

In sum, ancestors—both royal and commoner—figured prominently in the trajectory of ancient Maya society. This subset of the deceased linked descendants with rights to agricultural land through ritual action and the creation of sacred space.

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In so doing, inequalities within and between lin- eages emerged, as indicated by placement of the deceased, burial furniture marked with cosmologically significant imagery, and structure size and quality. Later, elites co-opted practices and beliefs surrounding ancestors to legitimize kingly power. They adapted agrarian imagery from com- moner sources and structured domestic architecture and ritual practice in ways that differed profoundly from earlier forms. Each embodies cosmo- logical origins, inherent inequalities, and the potential to establish hier- archies and institutionalize rights to labor and resources.


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  6. Helms defined two types of ancestors: emergent and first principle. Emergent ancestors require service and obedience, and in return they provide good fortune and abun- dance for their descendants. Like some Chinese ancestors Ahern ; Otake ; Wolf , emergent ancestors can cause misfortune for their living descendants when ritual obligations are neglected.

    This paternal- istic model of ancestor-descendant relations shares features with some of the classic African ethnographies on ancestors e. The second form of ancestor refers to cosmological conditions of cre- ation, or first principles. In some cases, places of origin may actually be located on the landscape and sacralized Helms —39 ; they are often salient fea- proof tures, such as rivers, mountains, caves, and lakes — In contrast to emergent ancestors, who derive from lineage members, first-principle ancestors precede the lineage temporally.

    First-principle ancestors are also typically nurturing or bountiful, unlike the more capricious recently de- ceased By co-opting cosmological ori- gins, aristocrats set themselves apart from commoners. As members of a superior social group that exists outside of and beyond the mundane, aristocrats are, in effect, living ancestors relative to the populace at large Kopytoff In preindustrial societies, this model of social relations is predicated on the widespread belief that hierarchy and inequality are inherent in the structure of the cosmos Helms — As cosmological others, aristocrats are distinguished by prescriptions and taboos that simultaneously deny their ordinariness while highlight- ing their qualitative superiority.


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    These include freedom from manual la- bor, sexual and dietary restrictions, untouchability, and sumptuary laws Helms — As living ancestors, aristocrats stabilize their social and cosmological positions by representing themselves as part of the per- manent order of the universe. Both McAnany and Helms viewed ancestors as power- ful social, economic, and cosmological agents who legitimize hierarchy and link lineages to resources. McAnany focused on the relationship be- tween ancestors and land claims, illustrating how ritual practice, caches, shrines, and pyramid construction sacralize space and materialize prop- erty claims.

    Among the nobility, human remains, texts, iconography, and monumental tombs placed lineage members within a divine social order that existed beyond the mundane bounds of kinship. Below, we identify some of the artifacts, features, texts, and imagery that social groups have used to convey ideas about ancestors, origins, and the pri- mordial past. Ancient Ancestors in China and Europe The Archaeology of Ancestors in China Anthropologists and historians working in China have produced some of the most sophisticated studies of ancestor worship from any world region, providing diachronic perspectives and detailing the ways in which ritual practices vary across time and space Rawson ; Thorp Liu Li analyzed burial patterns at several sites in the Yellow River valley, focusing on sacrificial activities near burials.

    At the site of Longgangsi BC , burials were sur- rounded by ash pits filled with carbonized organics, presumably the remains of sacrificial offerings. Liu interprets this as evidence that collective rites conducted by one or more lineages were dedicated both to individuals and to the deceased as a group. The men in these tombs were buried with drums—symbols of ritual authority—and were honored with offerings. Finally, the Chengzi cemetery — BC , associated with the Longshan culture, exhibits clear evidence of social stratification.

    The largest and most elaborate interments are fewest in number and spatially distinct; they contain adult males and are associated with pits contain- ing burned pig bones, ceramic vessels, and stone and bone objects. The Chengzi burials link hierarchy with ancestor veneration, a pattern that became institutionalized during the Late Shang period Liu — Bronze altar set of thirteen vessels used by Shang and Zhou elites to offer proof libations to ancestors.

    The set includes distinctive vessel forms, such as the tripodal jue second from left, with spout and the long-stemmed gu center, at base of the altar.

    Used to warm and serve wine, the jue and gu are the most commonly encoun- tered Shang ritual vessels. These vessels had ceramic counterparts that were used in the graves of those of lower status Campbell, this volume. See Chengyuan and Thorp on bronze vessel forms. By the Late Shang period, inscriptions on oracle bones and bronzes indicate that ancestor veneration had become a privileged practice and legitimation strategy used by royalty and other elites figure 2. The elaborate rituals manifested elite efforts to avoid calamity and ensure prosperity; they validated a particular worldview and the place of the Shang within it Allan ; Campbell, this volume; Keightley ; see also Helms — for a comparative perspective.

    Hageman Keightley These ancestors coexisted with an older, undifferentiated, and depersonalized assemblage of the dead who received offerings and appeals in a more general way. The Chinese archaeological and historical evidence provide immense time depth to the study of ancestor veneration. When combined with recent ethnographic work, the record extends back some six millennia, to BCE, when rites conducted in cemeteries honored the collec- tive dead Keightley ; Liu ; Yao Through time, venerative rites were celebrated by ever smaller, more exclusive kin groups and were dedicated to fewer and fewer deceased until, during the Late Shang and Zhou, royalty devoted rites to a mere handful of named ancestors.

    The early history of Chinese ancestor worship bears similarities to the Maya proof trajectory, in which private domestic ritual shifted to public arenas, and small-scale rites became monumental performances McAnany Chinese relations with the ancestral dead were diverse and dynamic; beginning in the Neolithic, they involved routine graveside sacrifices.

    During the Bronze Age, Shang and Zhou ancestor ritual expanded to include formalized divinatory appeals and bronze vessel displays in temple contexts as well as elaborate sacrifi- cial offerings at elite tombs. Like Liu in China, archaeologists in the United Kingdom have suggested that the earliest ancestor-oriented rituals and beliefs emerged in tandem with Neolithic shifts in the treatment of the dead and engagement with the landscape beginning about BC. Since the mids, British archaeologists e. As corporate monuments, tombs provided places where the remains of ancestors could be used to structure and sanction relations among living descendants.

    These practices declined between the third and second mil- lennium BC in favor of individual burial. Instead of ongoing venerative rites in which bodies were disarticulated and bones were arranged or re- moved, Bronze Age mourners ended their interactions with the deceased at interment Barrett He proof suggested that identity, power, and authority were constituted through access to and enaction of rituals such as feasting, skeletal disarticulation, and body part circulation.

    Physical closeness to the ancestors was transformed into social authority and legitimized emerging inequalities Thomas — The corpses themselves were critical to Neolithic ritual practice. Disartic- ulation and manipulation of remains dissolved the person and re-created him or her as an ancestor. These transformations entered bones into cir- culation as inalienable possessions; they were then moved, exchanged, and deposited across the landscape Thomas Lucas developed some of these ideas, arguing that bones, bearing ancestral po- tency, were part of a gift-based ritual economy in Late Neolithic York- shire.

    The eventual removal of these bones from the tomb completed the transition of the deceased into an ancestor and inte- grated him or her into a new set of social relationships and obligations. Hageman specific ancestors in a Late Neolithic context in which personal identity was constituted less through group affiliation than through life history and descent.

    De- scendants emphasized burial ritual, rather than ongoing veneration, and identified with a line of known ancestors who could be precisely located. Many of the ideas developed by Barrett, Thomas, and others appeared in the burgeoning literature on the phenomenology of landscape in the s. Stonehenge and Avebury, for example, figured as lithicized realms of the ancestral dead Parker Pearson and Ramilisonina Whittle et al. Archaeological Lines of Evidence for Ancestors Archaeological evidence for ancestors generally involves materializing re- lations with selected dead through ritual and deployment of their physical remains.

    Among the Maya, as McAnany dem- onstrated, such durability was expressed through genealogies, iconogra- phy, ritual practice, monumental architecture, and spatial relationships. The intimate bond between ancestors and the land may be manifested in archaeological features, such as shrines or structured deposits, and in landscape modifications that naturalize and reify relationships between the living and the dead. Ancestors themselves may be represented on painted pottery, in rock art, or in sculptural form.

    Finally, ethnohistories, proof such as the reports of Spanish chroniclers, provide firsthand accounts of ancestors in action and the rituals that sustained them. Arguments for ancestors are most effective when multiple lines of evidence are employed. The forms of material culture that archaeologists have used to identify ancient ancestors include 1.

    For example, a feature, such as a human interment, may also be part of a monument and situated meaningfully upon the landscape. Hageman memorial practices at multiple scales. Individual body parts, especially skulls, may fulfill similar functions when recovered from primary burial contexts, curated, and displayed Armit ; Arnold and Hastorf ; Chacon and Dye ; Duncan and Hofling ; Hill ; Houston et al. As mnemonic devices, bones may recall individual ancestors or, when deposited in os- suaries or other collective contexts, refer to lineage ancestors in more gen- eral and generic terms.

    However, such rites must be distinguished from funerary ritual itself. The mere provision of offerings is insufficient evidence of ancestor ritual, since the inclusion of food or beverages is a common practice cross-culturally when interring or disposing of the proof dead. Such service may be an ex- clusive practice associated with specific graves Liu or be directed toward a larger subset of the deceased. Rakita explored the curation of human bone at Casas Grandes, northern Mexico. Human bones are similarly potent among the Kwaio of the Solomons, where the skulls of some deceased men were exhumed several months after death, adorned with shell rings, and lashed with vines Walter et al.

    Although human bone is an especially potent material expression of ancestorhood, human remains themselves are neither necessary nor suf- ficient evidence of venerative beliefs and rituals. The Inca, for example, preferred to direct appeals and offerings to ancestors in the form of mum- mies; however, when the actual bodies of the deceased were unavailable, they employed proxy representations. Multiple cross-cultural examples of ancestors in lithified form Lau ; MacCormack — also demonstrate that absence of human remains is not necessarily absence of ancestors.

    Such features may nevertheless be difficult to identify archaeologically for several reasons. First, the materials they contain may be indistinguishable from domestic refuse, as those species or artifacts used as offerings or to feast the ancestors may overlap with foods and objects in routine or daily use. Second, the remains of ritual acts, such as animal sacrifice, may be consumed or dispersed and so disappear from the record Insoll b. Hageman accounts have shown that the venerative locus may be considered a place of ancestral residence and, at the same time, an instantiation of the ances- tor.

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    Shrines may mark the establishment of new territory Keesing or embody the entire history of a lineage Kuba and Lentz As Mid- dleton has demonstrated for the Lugbara, shrine forms are highly diverse and may be dedicated to ancestors who are matrilineal, patrilineal, apical, or childless. Shrines may be pots, effigies, mounds, monumental edifices, or natural objects, such as trees, which do not fit comfortably within any single category of archaeological evidence Mather, this vol- ume. The house is therefore both material and immaterial, perpetuated physically through land, structures, and objects and concep- tually through inheritance of its name, wealth, and entitlements Helms In other words, conceptualizing the shrine as a house conveys ideas about both kinship and physical and spatial proximity.

    Shrines and similar features are therefore highly salient in terms of their structure, location, and contents, though they may not be immediately recognizable as ritual loci. For example, among the Tallensi, shrines may be landscape features, such as a grove of trees. Prohibitions regulate their use, making them analogous to anthropogenic forests. A Tallensi shrine may also be a small household feature, such as a pot containing artifacts associated with a deceased fam- ily member Insoll a In one abandoned house, Insoll found a paternal shrine—a pot partially embedded in the mud platform of the building containing objects associated with the life of the deceased, including coins, cowry shells, blue plastic twine, a razor blade holder, a copper bell, bracelets, and a polished pebble.

    Animal remains, like human remains, are common components of structured deposits.

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    They may be efficacious animal parts or represent sacrificial offerings or the remains of a feast. Assemblages may include salient wild taxa, such as python Stahl or red deer Sharples , or domesticates familiar as foodstuffs. Red deer, however, may have been the desired feast food in Neolithic Orkney, amid social transformations that fundamentally al- tered human engagement with animals and the landscape Jones ; Jones and Richards ; Sharples Finally, the disproportionate presence of specific vessel forms found in association with shrine or burial features is consistent with making of- ferings to or feasting ancestors.

    Hageman , for example, found that middens associated with rural residences containing shrines in north- western Belize had a dramatically higher frequency of food preparation and serving vessels than middens in non-shrine, domestic contexts. Du- lanto found the highest counts of small decorated bottles amid offering and burial pits under patios at Pampa Chica, Peru. In the Central Andes, Lau argued that feasting of ancestors occurred in enclo- sures associated with decorated bowls, bone serving utensils, and camelid remains. Hageman in other contexts, indicating their celebratory function.

    Festal activities also served to reinforce group solidarity, as all who participate are osten- sibly descended from or affinally related to those being honored. In Neolithic China, pit features containing burned pig remains and objects made of stone and bone, in association with specific tombs, are indicative of routine tendance of select dead Liu During the suc- ceeding Shang and Zhou dynasties, offerings and consumption of food and drink produced deposits above the burial chamber as well as within it. Many distinctive vessel forms had earthenware counterparts and were in use for hundreds of years Chengyuan , indicating how durable ancestral rites were, despite the changing political and social landscapes of the Bronze Age.

    As these examples have shown, shrines and other archaeological fea- tures exist within larger spatial and cosmological contexts. In Neolithic and Shang China, offering pits illustrate the importance of proximity proof to the remains of the dead. Elsewhere, access to ancestors may require specific architectural forms or monuments Isbell or involve the creation or alteration of landscapes. Often these constructions house the dead and facilitate communication with them, but in some cases, the presence of ancestors on the landscape is metaphorical in nature.

    Architecture, Monuments, and Enculturated Landscapes Like the patterning associated with periodic ritual activities at shrines, the significance of the broader spatial context of ancestorhood has become implicit in the archaeological understanding of the phenomenon Charles and Buikstra ; Parker Pearson The ancestral presence is high- lighted through the erection of monumental tombs and manipulation of landscape features. But Helms's dependence on the weight of accumulated case studies is also a weakness because it is in the nature of such a method to preclude the contextu- alization of each set of structural norms in a field of practice.

    This is where her seeming indifference to the major thrust of Giddens's work, not to speak of that of other practice theorists such as Pierre Bourdieu and his followers, does most harm. What, for example, of matrimonial strategies? The differentiation she notes among societies is not merely typological; it has historical specificity, and that specificity resides to some extent in the successful strategies of key actors. Mar- shall Sahlins, e. Because she is more concerned to argue by sheer weight of numbers than by examining local pro- cesses in detail, and because she is thereby forced to utilize some work that is of elderly vintage and largely impervious to issues of agency, the specifically pro- cessual aspects of her conclusions remain hidden from view.

    The one grand pro- cessual schema remains that of political evolution. One irony of her refusal to survey modern, industrial societies is that she misses opportunities to generalize her thesis still further. This indeed may be one of the most deleterious effects of her implicit evolutionism. If we examine modern American society, for example, the role of "in-laws" and the attempts to create dy- nastic succession amidst an avowedly republican and electoral polity suggest that her thesis would be of some value in elucidating the strategies involved.

    But that would entail recognizing strategy rather than structure-a move that lies largely outside her purview here. But a book should be judged in terms of its author's stated intentions. By this standard, Access to Origins displays virtuosity and achieves conviction. It is the kind of book that makes a reader admit, however grudgingly, that "there must be something to it.

    The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy. Cambridge, Mass. In his work The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, and in other theo- retical essays related to the same topic, Durkheim argued for the social character of all religious phenomena. More specifically, he claimed that religious sentiment is the basis of society. Society results from people's interaction and cooperation and, once created, acquires a sort of transcendence, superiority, a religious char- acter.

    In actuality, Durkheim concluded, all religions are a worshiping of society manifested and reaffirmed by a system of beliefs and practices. Through periodic rituals and the deployment of symbols, members of society express their embrace of, and loyalty to, the social.

    Durkheim's theory of the social origins of religion has been drawing increas- ing attention from scholars in fields outside sociology and anthropology. The re- surgence of nationalisms and fundamentalisms from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia has once again brought to the fore questions concerning the relationship be- tween politics and religion. But already in the early s, the historian Albert Mathiez relied on Durkheim to explain the French revolutionary cults and argued that the French Revolution should be considered a new lay religion.

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    The French revolutionaries, Mathiez claimed, had a set of common credences that they rep- resented in several symbols and signs and celebrated in collective ceremonies. The revolutionaries also aimed at imposing these beliefs on all the French peo- ple. Was not that a form of religion? Search this site:. This leads her to a discussion of cosmologically defined hierarchies, the qualities that characterize aristocracy, and the political and ideological roles of aristocrats as wife-givers and wife-takers that is, as in-laws.

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    She concludes by considering various models that explain how societies may develop or define aristocracies. Read more Read less. Save Extra with 4 offers. About the Author Mary W. To get the free app, enter mobile phone number. See all free Kindle reading apps. Don't have a Kindle?