REVIEW BY MICHELLE GAMBLE
This book is the culmination of almost two decades of research on Bronze Age burial practices and the social context of the body by Marie Louise Stig Sørensen and Katharina Rebay-Salisbury, evolving from a wider corpus of research on the body in the past. This book specifically focuses on the shift from inhumation to cremation in Europe during the Bronze Age, and is a well thought-out and evidenced resource on the subject. Applying theoretical concepts of the body and death to case-studies from European sites allows the authors to present their interpretations of the ontological changes in belief regarding death and the body in the Bronze Age.
The book is well-structured into nine chapters, with the first five chapters setting the background by presenting: the history of research into perceptions of the body; a history of excavation and description of the Urnfield culture; the theoretical framework on which they base their interpretations; beliefs and lifeways in the Bronze Age; and case-studies from Hungary, Germany, and Denmark. Chapter 6 delves into a more nuanced examination of the introduction of cremation. It is useful for exploring the evolving technology and changes in practice for cremation, and applying this to the authors’ interpretation of beliefs in death and social differentiation in the Bronze Age communities of their sites. Chapter 7 explores the construction of graves independent from the treatment of the body, an important and often overlooked distinction, to investigate further beliefs of the living community and look at traditions and possibilities of symbolism. Chapter 8 presents post-burial practices and engagement with the dead, and the variations of this that exist in the middle Bronze Age. Chapter 9 brings together their final conclusions and interpretations of what they describe as a transitional period in burial practices.
This volume is most definitely directed at academics and those specialising in burial practice transitions and theoretical approaches to the body. It is a welcome addition to research into understanding the shift from inhumation to cremation in the Bronze Age, and what this may have meant for those communities’ beliefs.
Marie Louise Stig Sørensen and Katharina Rebay-Salisbury
Cambridge University Press, £75