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The culture of death.

This is a small collection of articles initiated by the Centre of Excellence in Cultural Theory and dedicated to the study of some selected aspects of the culture of death in archaeology, folkloristics, and media studies. Such a selection of research fields is to some extent random depending mostly on authors who responded to the call for papers and succeeded in finishing their contributions before the deadline. This selection could easily be quite different and the collection itself much thicker because the focus--the topic of death--touches everyone and forms an essential part in human culture. Nevertheless, even this casual selection of different aspects in the culture of death gives a good overview of the essential and inexhaustible nature of the topic, and of how some nuances of the culture of death share surprisingly many features in totally different research disciplines. The authors hope that their modest contribution complements that extremely large and rich discussion which does exist on the culture of death in various social and human sciences.

Although due to the nature of this journal the emphasis is on archaeology, it makes sense to start with the question from the last paper about the death in newspapers written by Halliki Harro-Loit and Kadri Ugur. They ask: "since everyone dies, whose death is worthy of media coverage?" One can replace the word "media" in this question with some other words more characteristic of someone's own research field. An archaeologist, for instance, could ask: since everyone dies, whose death was worthy of proper burying? The problem here lies in the circumstance that the graves and cemeteries we know from prehistory have often belonged only to a minor part of human population, while the majority of prehistoric people were buried in a way, which has not preserved their burials over longer times. Death leaves traces in human culture only if it is interpreted through that culture, as stated by Valter Lang in his article in the current volume, and by far not every death has shared this fate in prehistoric past. The proper burying, leaving traces in material culture, has been selective for a very long time, in our corner of the world until the spread of Christianity at the latest. But such selectiveness can also be found in many other prehistoric and historical societies around the world, while towards the modern societies it has achieved more shaded or hidden features. The media coverage of death today is actually also selective, therefore compensating the selectiveness of culturally treated death by other and modern means. Thus, death touches everyone of us but its phenomena interpreted through culture very much depend on both time and place. This culture-specificity is also demonstrated by the articles included in this volume.

Trying to answer the question, whose death is worthy of rendering cultural meaning, the researchers of prehistoric to modern societies usually refer to those persona who have possessed more remarkable and outstanding positions in their lifetime. Still, in egalitarian societies of distant past the question of who was buried in a few graves is quite incomprehensible for us, as there is insufficient data to make reliable suggestions. In more complex and stratified (pre)historic societies the buried people were most likely those who shared social, religious and economical power. Today the range of such people is much wider embracing also politically and culturally (in its broader sense) or otherwise active and outstanding individuals. Anyway, whatever has been the exact practice in particular cultures, death has been used as a means for distinguishing and remembering people who were somehow important for those societies.

Speaking of the representation of death in modern press, the main idea of death notices is the wish of survivors (e.g. relatives, friends, colleagues) to inform the others about someone's demise. All such notices and other texts share the grief and mourning; they speak much more about the living people than about those who died (Harro-Loit & Ugur, this volume). But this is exactly what also the archaeologists believe of prehistoric burial customs and grave buildings: they speak not only about the dead but, perhaps, much more about the living people, the survivors. Here, of course, the history of archaeology presents a number of different approaches how the burial customs have been interpreted through times, as briefly discussed in their paper by Abdulla Al-Shorman and Ali Khwaileh in this volume. Their short synopsis of the topic refers to the complexity and multiplicity of problems concerning the culture of death in prehistoric societies the more so because not only our interpretations have been changed according to the advance of archaeological theory and interpretation but death itself (resp. its cultural treatment) has been and is continuously changing depending on the development of symbolic thinking. And death certainly belongs among the most symbolically loaded spheres of human culture.

In the current volume, the papers by Al-Shorman & Khwaileh and Lang deal with archaeological remnants of prehistoric burial customs from two very distant and different regions: Jordan and Estonia. There is actually nothing in common if one looks at material remains of these two areas; yet, they both seem to share a selective attitude to 'proper burying'. That is, there are periods also in Jordan, which are very poor or empty in graves, although data on contemporary human habitation is rich. The problem is not discussed by the authors in greater detail, however, and therefore needs further study. Madis Arukask in his paper analyses folklore data concerning old beliefs on burying, concentrating especially on burial laments as a means to eliminate the fear of the dead. Such ritual practices which we only know from oral tradition have usually not left traces in archaeological record and are therefore important for the archaeologists in order to complement their source material. The tradition of exhumation, also discussed by Arukask, has material evidence in archaeological record, as revealed by both the occurrence of incomplete skeletons in prehistoric graves and single human bones found in settlement sites. The final paper, written by Harro-Loit and Ugur, analyses the representation of death culture in the Estonian press today. This paper brings death much closer to the reader (i.e. it happened not only in the past), as we get daily information about it from different media. From the point of view of the current volume it is interesting to follow how the mediated information about death is selected, framed, and presented in a certain conventional form.

doi: 10.3176/arch.2011.2.01


Kaesolev Kultuuriteooria Tippkeskuse initsieeritud artiklikogumik on puhendatud surmakultuuri moningate aspektide uurimisele arheoloogias, folkloristikas ja meediauuringutes. Selline distsipliinide valik on monevorra juhuslik, soltudes eelkoige autoritest, kes vastasid kogumiku koostamise uleskutsele ja suutsid oma uurimuse tahtaegselt lopetada. See valik oleks voinud olla ka teistsugune ja kogumik ise tunduvalt paksem, sest uurimisteema fookus--surm--puudutab meist igauht ning kujutab endast inimkultuuri vaga olulist osa. Igal juhul peaks aga ka seesugune pogus ulevaade surmakultuuri aspektidest andma hea ettekujutuse nii teema olulisusest ja mitmekulgsusest kui ka sellest, kuidas monedel surmakultuuri nuanssidel on ullatuslikke uhisjooni uksteisest kullaltki kaugetes teadusvaldkondades. Autorid loodavad, et nende tagasihoidlik panus taiendab seda mahukat ja mitmekesist kirjandust, mis surmakultuuri kohta on erinevates sotsiaal- ning humanitaarteadustes seni avaldatud.

Kuigi kaesoleva kogumiku rohuasetus on meie ajakirja iseloomust johtuvalt arheoloogial, oleks moistlik alustada kusimusest, mille esitavad Halliki HarroLoit ja Kadri Ugur oma artiklis surma kajastamise kohta ajakirjanduses: kui koik surevad, siis kelle surm on meedias kajastamist vaart? Sona meedia voib selles kusimuses vastavalt kellegi uurimisvaldkonnale ka mone teise sonaga asendada. Naiteks arheoloogias voiks kusimuse pustitada selliselt: kui koik surevad, siis kelle surm on vaart nn toelist matmist? Probleem on siin selles, et esiajast teada kalmetesse on maetud vaid vaiksem osa uhiskonnast, kusjuures enamik kunagi elanud inimestest on maetud viisil, mis pole voimaldanud jaanuste pikema aja jooksul sailimist. Surm jatab jalgi inimkultuuri ainult siis, kui ta on motestatud labi selle kultuuri, nagu sedastab oma artiklis Valter Lang, ja kaugeltki mitte iga surm pole esiajaloolises minevikus seesugune olnud. Nn toeline matmine--selline, millest jaab materiaalsesse kultuuri midagi alles--on olnud pikka aega selektiivne, meie piirkonnas pohiliselt kuni ristiusu levikuni. Seesugust selektiivsust surma kasitlemisel voib kohata ka paljudes teistes esiajaloolistes ja ajaloolistes uhiskondades, kusjuures hilisemate aegade poole liikudes on see omandanud jarjest uusi ning varjatumaid vorme. Nii on tegelikult selektiivne ka surma kajastamine tanapaeva meedias. Seega: kuigi surm puudutab meist igauht, on selle kultuuriliselt motestatud tahud vaga paljus soltuvad kohast ja ajast. Seda surma kultuurispetsiifilisust voib margata ka kaesolevasse kogumikku koondatud artiklites.

Puudes vastata kusimusele, kelle surm on vaart kultuurilise tahenduse omistamist, on eri ajastute ja kultuuride uurijad osutanud tavaliselt isikutele, kel on oma eluajal olnud uhiskonnas markimisvaarsem ning valjapaistvam positsioon. Ometi on sellisele kusimusele raske vastata kaugema esiajaloolise mineviku egalitaarsete uhiskondade puhul, sest vaheste teadaolevate matmispaikade ainestik ei voimalda hasti pohjendatud jareldusi. Komplekssetes ja kihistunud esiajaloolistes uhiskondades on maetud pohiliselt neid, kellel oli sotsiaalset, religioosset voi majanduslikku voimu/autoriteeti, nagu me tavaliselt arvame. Tanapaeval on seesuguste isikute ring, kelle surm leiab kultuurilist kajastamist, marksa laiem, holmates ka poliitiliselt ja kultuuriliselt (voi muud moodi) aktiivsemaid isikuid. Milline iganes vois olla kaitumisviis konkreetsetes kultuurides, on surma ikkagi kasutatud vahendina, et eristada ja maletada inimesi, kes uhel voi teisel moel olid vastavates uhiskondades olulised.

Mis puutub surma kajastamisse tanapaeva meedias, siis on surmakuulutuste pohiliseks sisuks ellujaanute (sugulased, sobrad, kolleegid) soov kellegi lahkumisest teada anda. Koik sellised teated edastavad muret ja leina, samas konelevad need rohkem elavatest inimestest kui surnutest (Harro-Loit ning Ugur, kaesolev valjaanne). Aga tapselt sedasama raagivad arheoloogid ka muistsest matmisviisist ja kalmeehitusest: need konelevad mitte uksnes surnutest, vaid ilmselt palju rohkem hoopis elavatest inimestest. Arheoloogia ajaloost voib muidugi tuua palju naiteid selle kohta, kuidas labi aegade on muutunud matmisviiside tolgendus, ja luhidalt on sellel teemal oma artiklis peatunud ka Abdulla Al-Shorman ning Ali Khwaileh. Nende luhike konspekt selle teema kohta annab ettekujutuse surmakultuuriga seotud probleemide komplekssusest ja mitmekulgsusest esiajaloolistes uhiskondades, seda enam et muutunud pole mitte uksnes meie tolgenduste iseloom vastavalt arheoloogiateooria arengule, vaid pidevalt on muutunud ka surm ise, oigemini surma kultuuriline tolgendamine vastavalt sumboliseeritud motlemise edenemisele. Ja pole kahtlust, et surm kuulub inimkultuuri koige rohkem sumboliseeritud sfaaride hulka.

Kaesolevas kogumikus on kahes artiklis kasitletud esiajaloolisi matmisviise kahes vaga kauges ja erinevas piirkonnas: Jordaanias ning Eestis. Vaadates nende piirkondade materiaalse kultuuri jaanuseid, pole tegelikult voimalik leida midagi uhist. Samas voib molemas piirkonnas taheldada selektiivset lahenemist "toelisele matmisele", sest ka Jordaania esiajaloos esineb perioode, kus inimasustuse olemasolust hoolimata puuduvad matmispaigad voi on need vaga haruldased. Al-Shorman ja Khwaileh ei aruta kuigivord selle probleemi ule, mistottu vajab kusimus edasist uurimist.

Madis Arukask on oma artiklis analuusinud rahvaluules sailinud vanu uskumusi matmiskommete kohta, puhendudes eriti itkudele kui surmakartuse torjumise vahendile. Seesugused rituaalsed praktikad pole moistagi ainelisse kultuuri jalgi jatnud ja on seega olulised muuhulgas ka arheoloogidele nende allikmaterjali taiendamiseks. Itkudest aimuv ekshumatsioonitava on siiski jatnud jalgi ka arheoloogilisse materjali, seda nii kalmetes esinevate mittetaielike skelettide kui ka asulakihtidest leitud uksikute inimluude naol.

Viimases artiklis (Harro-Loit ja Ugur) on analuusitud surma kajastamist tanapaeva Eesti ajakirjanduses, tuues seelabi teema lugejale marksa lahemale (st surm ei esine uksnes kauges minevikus). Kaesoleva kogumiku seisukohalt on huvitav jalgida, kuidas ajakirjanduses vahendatav info surma kohta on selekteeritud, raamitud ja esitatud vastavalt kindlale kokkulepitud vormile.

Valter Lang
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Article Details
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Author:Lang, Valter
Publication:Estonian Journal of Archaeology
Geographic Code:4EXES
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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Next Article:Burial practices in Jordan from the Natufians to the Persians.

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