Mortuary practices: Their social, philosophical-religious, circumstantial, and physical determinants

Christopher Carr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

213 Scopus citations


Recent, mainstream, American mortuary archaeology, in its paradigmatic outlook, middle-range theory, analytic methodology, and case studies, has emphasized social organization as the primary factor that determines mortuary practices. Broader anthropological and social science traditions have recognized philosophical-religious beliefs as additional, important determinants. The historical roots of mortuary archaeology's focus on the social, and the consequence of this on theory development, is reviewed. Then, through a Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) cross-cultural survey, the kinds of philosophical-religious, social organizational, circumstantial, and physical factors that affect specific kinds of mortuary practices, and the relative importance of these factors, are documented. The data are also used to test basic premises that mortuary archaeologists routinely use today to reconstruct social organization. A balanced, more holistic, and multidisciplinary approach, which considers many kinds of causes beyond social ones, is found necessary to interpret mortuary remains and to reconstruct the past from them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-200
Number of pages96
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1995


  • archaeology of social organization
  • ideology
  • mortuary archaeology
  • mortuary practices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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