Bronze Age Burials

While the Bronze Age hasn’t changed in some ways for previous Stone Age people, the question of an afterlife was still on their minds. Burial customs became very important for people, especially during the neolithic period (see the neolithic category for more information). It seems that the Bronze Age people continued the trend of an honor burial or belief in some form of afterlife. They have even taken the afterlife question a little further again.


CIST grave

Bronze Age people buried their dead in single graves called cist graves. These were rectangular shaped graves lined with stone slabs. The dead were placed in a crouched position inside the cist grave laying on their sides. Seems a little uncomfortable right? It’s what they did after this is what’s intriguing. The people buried their dead along with items belonging to that person. This may have included items such as arrow heads, spear heads, pottery, jewelry and more. This tradition has a long history to it.

Here are some examples of grave possessions:

Ancient Egypt

After death, Ancient Egyptians believed that the ‘Ka,’ an entity closely associated with the physical body was able to eat, drink and smell, and essentially enjoy the afterlife. They were thus buried with their possessions for many reasons. Some included burial for protection and food for the long journey to the afterlife. Many Pharoah’s were buried with their gold as a statement of power..

Ancient Greece & Rome

A proper burial was important to both the Greeks and the Romans, who believed that the dead could linger as ghosts if the living failed to carry out the appropriate funeral rites. In Greece, immortality could only be attained through remembrance by the living. To this end monumental earth mounds, rectangular tombs, and elaborate marble stelai and statues were erected. The Romans took death equally seriously, some having their tombs constructed in their lifetime to ensure a proper send off. Both cultures believed in paying Charon the Ferryman to help guide the dead to the next life. (See Roman category for more info)

Ancient Mesopotamia
The Mesopotamians, a civilisation existing in and around modern day Iraq around the same time as the time of Pharaohs of Egypt had a very different view of death. For them, death was something to be feared.

Due to the inevitability of the prospect of a grim afterlife, whether you were good or bad, very few provisions were made for the afterlife itself. Ancient Mesopotamian literature writes of the goddess Ishtar who, in passing through the gates to the underworld gradually had to give up all her possessions before she could meet with Ereshkigal, the queen of the underworld. However grave goods were still common.

These often took the form of pots for food and water, and indeed skeletons from around 2900B.C. have commonly been found with their hands held to their mouths cupping a small bowl. Other grave goods are thought to be for use on the way to the afterlife, as gifts to the gods, or in the cases of high-ranking individuals, as displays of personal wealth.

Ancient China
In ancient China it was believed that death was just a prolongation of life. Instead of believing in individual salvation per se, the ancient Chinese believed that the dead would continue in the spirit life much as they had done in this life. Remember the Terracotta Warriors?

The ‘Terracotta Warriors’ in 1974 uncovered a massive burial complex, complete with 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, acrobats, strongmen and officials.

The Bronze Age people have similar reasons to all these different cultures. It seems apparent that they feared the afterlife in a way that they had to equip their dead with the right items to safely pass through to the next life.

For more information on these customs check out this website:

Wedge Tomb

wedge tomb

These are by far the most popular type of megalith found in the country. Think Portal Dolmens but on a smaller scale!.The tombs were built in the same way; two standing stones with a third at the back finished with a large capstone on top. They were wedge shaped. The entrance was taller and wider than the back and was often covered in a mound of smaller stones. The dead were cremated and their remains were placed in a pot.

Standing Stone

Ok this is where Duncan Stewart would freak out at the lack of health and safety precautions taken because these, while not as large as passage tombs (usually!) are quite a feat of engineering. Burial places have been found with stone circles, standing stones and stone rows.  Astrology has it’s part to play again as the entrance to stone circles are usually in the north east of the circle with the smallest stone placed opposite the entrance. Archaeologists believe this has some connection to the movement of the sun. These monuments are therefore thought to be used not only as a burial site but also as a site of worship. Like the solstice in Newgrange, it may have been possible to use these circles as a way to tell seasonal change. Below is the Drombeg stone circle followed by Stonehenge in England, which is by far the most impressive of stone circles

stone circle

Stonehenge, aerial view

stonehenge 2

So that’s it. Bronze Age man continued the honor code as it was for their dead, leaving behind many burial ruins in Ireland today. For more information on the Bronze Age, have a snoop around this category.


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