Grave Goods and Persistence through Change
Archaeology has begun a revolution away from theory and toward the study of practice.
Instead of focusing on the large scale of identity formation, archaeologists have become
increasingly fascinated with
la vie quotidienne
—those mundane, everyday routines that help to
characterize identity in preconscious ways.
Still, as much criticism as has battered those who emphasize it, culture remains on some
level an important focus in studying the history of people. Daily habits are in themselves
cultural rituals, and words like “doxa,” meant to be associated with practice theory, reflect as a
clouded glass the generalized idea of culture. Important distinctions exist between cultural
theorists and practice theorists, but some areas of study help to link these two lenses, to turn the
telescopic into the binocular, in order to form a more cohesive picture of a people.
One such area of study is that of mortuary customs. Not only does it reflect the culture,
the system of meanings established by a group, through its spiritual importance, it also
illuminates important practical and political implications considered important to practice
theorists. Death is unique in that it is at once deeply personal and tragic, but also common and
ordinary. For this reason, many archaeologists and anthropologists find it an interesting and
important subject of examination.
Both Dr. Bragdon and Dr. Nassaney rank among this group of scholars. Both study the
Native American groups of southern New England—and both examine grave goods. Needless to
say, this could easily be where the similarities end. In general, the range of theoretical
approaches researchers take makes direct substantiation by other researchers incredibly
improbable (Joyce 367). But the assessments performed by Bragdon and Nassaney seem to
complement each other; in fact, Nassaney seems to present an expansion of Bragdon’s ideas,
some answers to her questions, while maintaining, of course, his particular focus on Native
American gender roles.
Both establish the individual character of burial before European contact in contrast to
the cemetery form of burial after the colonists’ arrival (Bragdon 25 Oct.; Nassaney 343). They
also both emphasize the overall increase in grave goods, as well as the more specific, concentric
increase in costly signaling behavior regarding mortuary customs (Bragdon 25 Oct.; Nassaney
343). Bragdon posed a series of questions regarding this shift, concentrating on the central idea