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by Archaeology Newsroom

Burial customs in Neolithic Cyprus

Over a period of three thousand years, covered by the present article, the Neolithic tombs in Cyprus do not present radical changes and are dug, in general, either under the floors of the houses or outside them but always within the limits of the settlement.

The dead who are, in great majority, intact are laid on the left or right side and with very few exceptions on the back or on the abdomen. There is no fixed orientation of the body or face. Legs and arms are contracted in various degrees of contraction. Primary, single burials are the general rule and the few exceptions concern mainly the later phases. Characteristic is the custom of placing one or more heavy stones on the head or the body regardless of the sex of the dead, which in combination with tied and distorted bodies leads to the existence of a belief in a kind of life after death interlaced with strong necrophobia. Funeral offerings are mainly stone vases intentionally broken, some silex arms and tools, jewellery and sea shells. As we advance in time, in the Neolithic II period, the offerings consist exclusively of pottery and obsidian flakes.

We notice that death in Neolithic Cyprus is a manifestation of everyday life, and is faced in a simple way. In our opinion the boulders are to prevent the dead from getting out of their grave. On the other hand, everyday objects seem to have been “sacrificed” as funeral offerings, the difficulty in their manufacture making them more necessary to the living than to the dead. The Neolithic inhabitants of Cyprus believed that the mobile property of somebody belongs to him even after his death and, if conceded as funeral offerings, it prevents the dead from coming back and claiming it. In that way the miasma is prevented from contaminating the inhabitants of the village.

Funeral rites are homegenous and follow the main ritual prevailing in this field in Neolithic Greece and Anatolia.