Sounding Death for November 17, 2011

Ahh, mid-term season, when all individual research writing shrieks to a halt in the face of grading, grant-writing, recommendation-letters, etc., etc. Perhaps that’s what makes us think of death so frequently in this season, and not merely the traditional association of Autumn with death and renewal. Whatever causes it, the interwebz have been throwing a lot of death-related material out there for us to enjoy.

A new Pyu burial site found in Sri Ksetra, Burma/Myanmar, and consists of “urns collected in a brick structure.” (via Southeast Asian Archaeology Weblog) This urban settlement thrived from 4th-9th centuries CE. The Pyu are one of the major four ethnic groups considered indigenous to the regions, the Khmer, Pyu, Cham, and Mon. One of the many interesting things about the burial site, to me, is the existence of grouped urns, as is still standard practice among the Khmer.

The “Kola” group are an ethnic Burmese group that used to thrive in the Pailin region of Cambodia, especially as gem miners and merchants. Although sometimes described as ‘disappeared,’ it might be better to say that the Kola in Pailin have been supplanted: it’s still possible to find people who describe themselves as Kola, but I have not heard of a
“Kola community.” Regardless, a Kola Stupa in the region has just been restored, and it looks AWESOME.

Buzzfeed had a nice photo essays on the Bolivia’s “Day of the Skulls.” Perhaps a bit focused on the ‘transgressive’ aspects (transgressive especially to the presumed Norteamericano viewer, I think), but still a number of very nice photos.

Or perhaps you’d like to take a peek at a lovely necropolis? (surprisingly high property values!)

Atlas Obscura finally got around to profiling the Choeung Ek Memorial Stupa. Pretty much the sort of detail you’d imagine.

In the Czech Republic, Atlas Obscura also profiled the ossuary of Křtiny, in which the skulls of approximately 1,000 people are (mostly) painted with a black laurel-wreath design.

Some of the links and images in the posts above are taken from the newly-published book, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, by Paul Koudounaris, which looks grimly beautiful.

A fascinating new mortuary practice in South Korea is catching press; it’s being cast as a new way to mourn, but I wonder if that’s the whole story. And if so, why now? Interesting stuff. The practice? Turning the remains of loved ones into prayer beads.


5 thoughts on “Sounding Death for November 17, 2011

  1. Alison says:

    I always enjoy opening up my RSS reader and seeing some new posts from your blog! I’ve just been reading about the Pyu and those urn burials are fairly common at Pyu sites and I agree that they are really neat. I don’t know much about them though and have always been curious if they are related to the earlier (non-Indianized) jar burials of the Sa Huynh culture or if they are more strongly related to Buddhism. I suspect the tradition is different from the early jar burials, as a lot of earlier sites have inhumation burials. Anyway, you might also be interested in some of the free pdf downloads from Bob Hudson’s website: some interesting articles on archaeology, Buddhism etc in Burma.

  2. Thanks, Alison – those look fascinating! Regarding collected urn ‘burials’ (what better word to describe this?): what are the regional archaeological examples of this? Also, have you read Hudson’s article “A Pyu Homeland in the Samon Valley?” That looks truly fascinating, and very relevant to my own work. I’d appreciate a sense of your opinion of that article, should you get a chance.

  3. Alison says:

    Ok! Finally a free moment to respond. I re-read Hudson’s article (I like his work) and I think his hypothesis seems totally plausible and worth testing further with additional archaeological data (or DNA as he suggests). This isn’t my world area, so it’s hard for me to critique but Elizabeth Moore does note that Pyu and Samon culture sites overlap spatially and temporally. I think his idea about people deciding to move so they could practice more Indian styles of kingship is really interesting, and I wonder if it is relevant to my work too. How is this article relevant to some of your research?
    About the urns: Again this is not my specialty but in the reading I’ve been doing there are these urn burials that are often found at Pyu walled sites- both inside and outside the walls. There are also other urn burials found *not* associated with walled sites. In the pictures I’ve seen- some urns are globular and others (like some found at Beikthano) are more elaborate. I think a lot of them have evidence for cremation and sometimes beads.
    Again, I’m kind of new to this literature, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading from this book:

    So I don’t know much about the Khmer practice of grouped urn burials- can you fill me in on that? Also are you familiar with the historic jar burials in the Cardamom mountains (I think post-Angkorian period)?

  4. Alison, this is very helpful, indeed. Thanks. In contemporary Cambodian practice, urns are often grouped together, and placed against religious structures’ walls. The practice which most strongly appears to resemble that of the Pyu grouped-urn internment is that of placing urns in a cetiya, usually on temple grounds, but also frequently on a small plot of family land. Multiple urns are placed together in almost all circumstances, often grouping according to family lineages (family plots) or status at temple (temple cetiya). I’m writing a short piece right now about two urns that ‘fought’ in their shared internment area – when alive, the people inside the urns didn’t like each other much.

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