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ACTIVITY: Social Status, Power, and Human Burials


This activity provides you with an opportunity to start thinking about the impact that farming can have on the way humans live and relate to each other. It will also allow you to think about the kinds of questions archaeologists and historians might ask when they must rely upon artifacts rather than written evidence to learn about the past.


Look carefully at the set of burial images from Egypt, Xian, and Greece. Think about the following questions in relation to each:
1. Can you describe the burial? What does the tomb or grave look like? How was the body prepared? Were there any objects in the grave or tomb?
2. What conclusions would you draw about the wealth, power, and social status of each of the individuals from these three burials? Explain the reasoning behind your conclusions.
Egypt. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: [Jack1956 at the English language Wikipedia](https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Bm-ginger.jpg)
Xian. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution Eikenhein
Greece. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution Rosemania

For Further Discussion

Pick one culture’s burial image and share your answers to the two questions in the Questions Area below. Then, comment on someone else’s answer: Choose someone who wrote about a different culture than you did, and compare how your culture was either similar or different to the one they picked.

Want to join the conversation?

  • spunky sam green style avatar for user Sabrina Groom
    1. The body was put into a stone burial place and it's guarded by many statues. I don't see objects in the burial place besides the guards.

    2. I think this person was very powerful because he has all these "guards", because I think he's powerful I assume he was wealthy because wealth and power usually go together.
    (6 votes)
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  • leafers seed style avatar for user Joan_Cosby
    1. The Egyptian burial image shows the mummified body along with containers which may have contained food for his journey in the afterlife. There is also jewelry and what appears to be a knife. Perhaps the knife was for protections. I'm not sure why he would have jewelry - perhaps a gift to the gods in the afterlife. I imagine that the burial was done with much care. Likely the body was protected as it appears to be in very good condition. It could have been wrapped in cloth. I expect also that there would have been a very strong container that the body and the objects were placed in, as everything is still intact. It seems clear that there would have been some significant ceremony because of the diligence and care of body and the objects, and the what appears to be a belief that the person is going to meet someone in the next life.
    2. I expect that this a person of significant wealth and prominence in his city as the cost associated with the mummification process and burial would be significant. I think only important people took the trip to the next life. I would not expect farmers, slaves or other menial workers to be able to afford this type of burial or be worthy of the kind of respect shown to this person's life and death. I don't think this would be the body of a pharaoh or a royal family member as I would expect there would be much more ornate adornment of the body, as well as more valuable containers and jewelry buried with the body.
    (4 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Pip
    1. The Greek burial image didn't actually show a body or grave, so I can't describe the burial. However, since the picture shows a gold mask, I can probably assume that that was placed over the body's face.
    2. As for the wealth, power, and social status of the individual who was buried, I actually know that the image shows the "Mask of Agamemnon", which was the burial mask of an ancient Greek royal (I'm kind of a history freak). So I already know that this man held a lot of power, and had a very high social status.
    (2 votes)
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