Perception of the Dead
Welcome to our exhibit!
“Perception of the Dead” will address the similarities and differences between Egyptian and Greek ideas about the societal perception of various groups of people. These groups will be based on classifications of gender, age, socioeconomic class, and occupation. By drawing on material evidence of graves and grave sites, this exhibit aims to present a comparative analysis of the most important values of the two societies. This exhibit will explore how each society viewed their deceased and how that view is reflected in the burial. It will explore how the burials of these different types of individuals can help reconstruct the social dynamic of each place. It will also determine what the most important aspect of an individual’s social persona was, showing how they fit into the social construct.
Examining these different social personas shows common beliefs and themes that were represented in the burials of the two societies. The evidence that we draw from in this exhibit includes grave goods, sites, monuments and epitaphs. Each one of these can tell us something different about the deceased and the societal view of them. In ancient Egypt, the burial goods indicated a stronger focus navigating the underworld. Obtaining an afterlife seemed to be more important than representing the individual’s social persona. In ancient Greece, burials were more personalized and reflected an individual’s social persona. Though the representation may have been somewhat idealized, there was less of an emphasis of journeying to the underworld. Grave sites can speak to the societal dynamic and how each type of individual fit into a certain role. Whether cemeteries were all inclusive or sectioned off by status, age, gender or occupation says a lot about how the society functioned. Stone monuments represent the deceased and show how they were perceived by the people around them. In Greece, monuments depict an individual in the way their families wanted them to remembered, and reflect who they were in life. In Egypt, some monuments honor the individual but an overwhelming amount of the art and scripture focuses on the universally shared journey into the afterlife.
Since the aim of this exhibit is to reconstruct societal values from the manner in which the dead were buried, it draws on the functionalist tradition. Functionalism “emphasizes the pre-eminence of the social whole over its individual parts.” (Pearson) To this end, we are looking at the individual parts in order to see how they link together to form a social whole. Examining the social divisions that cut across both cultures is an effective method for understanding the differences and similarities in societal values. Since this approach involves making broader assumptions from individual instances, it should be noted that the reconstruction may not be entirely accurate. A weakness of functionalism is that not every assumption made will be correct because graves are not always indicative of actual social values. Despite this, functionalism can grant us a useful perspective given enough data. Certain parts of this exhibit delve into other theories as well, such as gender archaeology (which views gender as a social construct that can be recreated from archaeological evidence).
Though in both Egypt and Greece there were similar ideas regarding the afterlife for the men, women, children, and warriors of both elite and non-elite families, there are certain differences in burial practice that illuminate truths about the social structure of these ancient civilizations. Through this exhibit we hope to communicate these social phenomena of the ancient world that we have uncovered, and help the reader reach some conclusions about how human beings from every walk of sought to be remembered for thousands of years.
- Pearson, Mike P. “From Now to Then: Ethnoarchaeology and Analogy.” The Archaeology of Death and Burial. N.p.: Texas A&M UP, n.d. N. pag. Print.