Landscapes of the dead: The Miocene, Pliocene and Pleistocene evolution of hominin mortuary activity from face to face to place

Wednesday 8 October 2014, 5.15PM

Speaker: Paul Pettit, Durham University

Professor Paul Pettitt is based at the Departent of Archaeology, Durham University. He is a specialist in the European Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, with research interests in the origins and nature of Palaeolithic art and mortuary activity, chronometry, the behaviour of the Neanderthals and Pleistocene members of our own species, and the British later Palaeolithic.


Human interactions with the dead constitute some of the most profound human characteristics that archaeologists can investigate. From later prehistory at least, some of the most ambitious and archaeologically visible constructions served to contain the dead and project their continuing agency among the living. Over the long-term, however, funerary monuments emerged late; the emergence of funerary rituals must, therefore, be sought not in construction and monumentality, but in the role of the body in social theatre. I will here suggest a falsifiable hypothesis for the emergence and elaboration of hominin funerary activities, that saw a critical transferal of interest in the dead - morbidity - from the body (face to face) to the place by at least the time of the Neanderthals. Was this sudden, however, or a more general process of social evolution? I will interrogate the palaeoanthropological and Palaeolithic record to address these issues and the wider context of the evolution of human ritual and belief.

Location: The Philip Rahtz Lecture Theatre (K/133), King's Manor