Rituals: Death Through The Ages

My visit today was to the Tomb of the Eagles where there was a real chance to think about the rituals that surrounded death five thousand years ago. And still do today.

The Tomb contained thousands of bones. Some were stored in separate chambers. Most were disarticulated. There were no whole skeletons found. Yet only eighty-five skulls were in the structure. Far less than could account for all of the bones. As the guide explained to us  the death rituals of these Neolithic people are believed to have included sky burials. Bodies of the dead were left outside until the soft parts of the body had decayed. Then they were apparently dismembered and placed in the Tomb. After about eight hundred years of use the roof of the Tomb was deliberately collapsed. Perhaps it had fulfilled it’s purpose. Or was full. Or the rituals had changed.

Archeologists try to understand these practices. But it’s hard to make sense of the burial practices when there are no records. What was the pottery for? Or the eagle tallons? And the animal bones or stone tools? It seems that lots of different theories have been proposed . Especially since on the same site there is a Bronze Age structure which has also defied an explanation. It actually has piped water into a pool in the centre. It seems the water was heated for some purpose too. I had lots of questions. Was it a bath house? A sauna? The place to give birth? Somewhere like a mortuary to prepare a body? At this distance from that era it is impossible to be sure. Yet rituals seem to be at the heart of both buildings.

Which made me think about our own rituals around death. What it’s acceptable to do. And what we no longer practice in honouring the loved one who has passed over.

I thought about the deaths in my own family. As the news spread people gathered to grieve together. To talk about the person’s life and wish them well on their new journey. My loved ones were placed in a box that was filled with objects to remember their life. A piece of jewellery, photos, poems, significant belongings. Because we wanted them to be accompanied by their ‘things’. And the reminders of all of us. Then those boxes were placed in the ground. Some families practice a fire burial. My family practices an earth burial. Prayers were said. Eulogies given. Songs sung. All of these practices show love and respect for the dead person.

I reflected on how similar the rituals of death still were. Thousands of years afterward I know we still want to honour our dead. Because it feels like the right thing to do. That’s why we worry that we might not be doing it right. I know that many people come to see me concerned that their loved one in Spirit may not be happy with the memorial they were give. Then I can reassure them that the rituals we follow are always appreciated by our love one. Whatever happens during the proceedings. It made me realise that I can only do my best. At the end of a loved one’s life I have to honour them in whatever way possible. Rituals change slightly over time. But it seems the core is always a demonstration of love.

I stood on the headland by a standing stone. It is the memorial to the farmer and his wife who discovered and preserved the Tomb of the Eagles. How fitting that their passing has been marked in this way. Because their passion for the distantly past has preserved it for all of us.

Day 603 of my blogging challenge 

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