Burial Terminology: A Guide for Researchers

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9780759108417: Burial Terminology: A Guide for Researchers
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With archaeological practices being as varied as the cultures they study, little advance has been made to standardize the nomenclature used in the Western scientific world to describe the physical aspect of burial and other forms of body disposal, which would allow researchers to describe and precisely compare these unique and revealing practices. Prominent archaeologist Roderick Sprague finally presents a long-overdue and much-needed logical outline of the variables that should be listed to describe bodies, grave goods, and tombs, establishing standard terms for the archaeologists who excavate these burials. Drawing from examples and terminology in historical archaeology, prehistory, ethnography, and forensic anthropology, this well illustrated, practical, and user-friendly reference text will be indispensable to all researchers in these and related fields.

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About the Author:

Roderick Sprague, born in 1933, is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Laboratory of Anthropology Director Emeritus from the University of Idaho, Moscow where he taught for 30 years.


Just as a Munsell chart provides a standard set of parameters for colour, Roderick Sprague's guide aims to fulfil a similar role for mortuary archaeology. . . Whilst you may not agree with all of the contents, the book is a useful attempt at some form of standardisation which will permit better cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary comparison of burial materials and practices. (Oxbow Book News)

From the university student to the most experienced fieldworker, this international assessment of terminology and classification for mortuary archaeology is to be welcomed. Not limited by time, space or culture, a logical approach is applied to all forms of evidence. This will allow archaeologists to more clearly understand what was meant in old reports and develop more effective and consistent reporting in the future. This is a book to be read and heeded by all who are involved with burial archaeology. (Harold C. Mytum, University of York)

This book brings together the work of a lifetime by Roderick Sprague and gives to a field of anthropological inquiry an order that has been heretofore lacking. Sprague is one of the few capable of achieving this systematization of terminology and concepts. It is this very action that will enable diverse scholars to draw comparatively upon the works of one another in scientifically productive ways. In effect, this effort allows communication across disciplines as well as between the many scientific communities around the world concerned with the universal human experiences of death and burial practices. (Deward E. Walker, Jr., University of Colorado)

Few areas of anthropology contain more confusing terminology than that found in the literature associated with burial description and interpretation. This new book by Roderick Sprague addresses these problems and offers a convincing road map toward their resolution. (Douglas H. Ubelaker, physical anthropologist and author of Bones: A Forensic Detective's Casebook)

... a major work that will serve for many years as the 'hanbook' of terminology relating to burial remains ... Burial Terminology is without question the definitive work on the use of terminology relating to burials, burial features and associated grave goods. As such it will find its way onto the shelves of archaeologists and libraries worldwide. The breadth and detail of its discussions will ensure that the book attains the 'classic' status of such workds as Ceramics for the Archaeologist. (Idaho Archaeologist)

In our careers as archaeologists we all at some time come into contact with burials, whether directly as part of an excavation or indirectly as part of our research. When we begin to consider these burials and the literature about burials we are faced with a wide diversity of terminology, which we can use to describe these burials, and concepts about burial practices that vary from author to author if we are looking for comparisons. Rick Sprague has for years researched the extensive archaeological literature from around the world about burials and burial practices, and in his new book he presents the first coherent analysis of this literature, and in particular the terminology used. Through Rick Sprague's book it is possible to understand the complexity of language used by archaeologists. This book will be not just an invaluable tool for the archaeologist but is a helpful guide to the layman interested in archaeological studies. (Susan Piddock, Flinders University, Australia)

Well researched and written, Burial Terminlogy is extremely useful for researchers dealing with human burials, whether in a prehistoric, historic, ethnographic, or forensic context. Illustrations are useful in conveying sometimes confusing terminology. Perhaps one of the most valuable sections of the book is the extensive reference section...this work is successful in providing an extensive reference list and a basic framework from which to build a consistent burial terminology for researchers. (James Parker, Department of Anthropology, East Carolina University)

The book is an excellent resource for those who excavate and interpret burial contexts. Sprague makes compelling arguments for his choice of terms and procedures. This is a serious effort to create a data-recording format that will facilitate comparisons through time and space, including ethnographic with archaeological data. (Jane E. Buikstra, Arizona State University Journal of Field Archaeology)

Sprague's work is a meaningful contribution to the understanding and application of burial terminology, and should serve as a valuable source for anyone working with burials....Sprague's concise and easy to understand system should be implemented to provide a standardized burial terminology. (Canadian Journal of Archaeology)

This book is an important and timely addition to the archaeological literature. Not only is a consistent approach necessary for information sharing among archaeologists, but it is particularly important for those wanting to conduct an analysis of burial traits across geographic areas, and for archaeologists interested in the taphonomic effects of different methods of disposing of the dead. The Field Guide is user friendly, and every field archaeologist and teaching academic would benefit by adding this book to their library. (Australasian Historical Archaeology)

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Publisher: AltaMira Press, 2005

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