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CL4009 Life, Death and Sacrifice: Funerary Archaeology in Pre-Roman Italy


Module Organisers: Dr Jacopo Tabolli
Duration of Course: All year
Contact Hours: 44 (One 2-hr class p.w.)
Weighting: 20 ECTS
Assessment: 2 x 3hr end-of-year examinations

The study of death and burial constitutes one of the most powerful ways to explore past civilisations. Funerary remains represent a complex set of data related not only to the dead but also to the living community and to expressions and renegotiations of identities as well as power, gender and status relations. The funerary practices in Italy during the first millennium BC show a great variability ranging from cremations to inhumations, from simple pits and trench-tombs to complex chamber tombs, from a close spatial relation with the settlement to large extramural cemeteries, from the absence of any equipment to the deposition of valuable goods, and from the lack of gender differentiation to the presence of weapons and equipment for weaving and spinning. As such, the investigation of the universe of life, death and sacrifice in pre-Roman Italy is a challenging topic, which deserves a focused research analysis such as the one proposed in this module.

The module will examine the variety of cultures and historical events characterising ancient Italy, both the peninsula and the archipelago, focusing on funerary data. We will explore different methodologies and approaches to the study of funerary archaeology, surveying the archaeological evidence for the ancient Italic tribes (Latins, Faliscans, Oscans, Umbrians et al.), the Etruscans, the indigenous cultures of Sicily and Sardinia, the early interactions with Greeks and Phoenicians and the rise of Rome from the Early Iron Age (ca. 1000 BC) to the Archaic period (6th-5th century BC). Within the broader topic of funerary ideology, we will especially focus on members of the ancient community, which have been considered marginal for a long time: the infants and children. Through the study of infant and child burial we will try to reconstruct the different characteristics of childhood at the beginning of the first millennium BC.

Learning Outcomes:

On successful conclusion of this module, students should be able to:

  • Identify the fundamental concepts and key issues of the history of pre-Roman Italy (first half of the 1st millennium BC) and the role of funerary archaeology for the definition of the identity of the different cultures.
  • Discuss and analyse the changes in mortuary custom during the various cultural phases - Final Bronze Age, Early Iron Age, Orientalising Period and Archaic Period - and how the study of the differences in status, age and gender can (or can not) reflect the social development of the different Italic populations.
  • Analyse recent methodological trends in the study of funerary archaeology of pre-Roman Italy, with particular regards to the link between the emergence of proto-urban settlements and the burial practices.
  • Describe the characteristics of a pre-Roman deathscape applying interdisciplinary methodology, drawing connections between different types of burials.
  • Design a digital-archaeological exhibition, communicating to the larger public the potential of the archaeological record for the understanding of ancient history and the importance of best practices in archaeology.

Introductory Bibliography

  • A.M. Bietti Sestieri 1992, The Iron Age Community of Osteria dell'Osa, Cambridge.
  • M. Gleba and H.W. Horsnaes, eds. 2011, Communicating Identity in Italic Iron Age Communities, Oxford.
  • S. Haynes 2000, Etruscan Civilization . A Cultural History, Los Angeles.
  • Jean Macintosh Turfa ed. 2013, The Etruscan World, London.
  • E. Perego and R. Scopacasa 2016, Burial and Social Change in First-millennium BC Italy: Approaching Social Agents. Gender, personhood and marginality, Oxford.

Last updated 14 September 2017