One of the first things you learn as a student of Anthropology is that grave goods are a sign of the importance of the deceased to the community that they left…. one case which is most notable is that of the neanderthal burials in the caves in Shanidar in Northern Iraq.
It can, to someone like me, be an amazing piece of information to process.
The burials are dated and are said to have occurred around 60.000 years ago. And appeared at first to be just some burials… however, a soil analysis was done and what resulted was astounding, The analysis claimed a large amount of pollen in the soil.
These items can appear rather unremarkable to most. So, there are a bunch of bones and some dirt with a lots of pollen in it… but when one begins by asking why there is so much pollen at a grave site in a cave a picture begins to emerge that was surprising in so many ways.
What most assume happened is that the man who died was of some import, that flowers were placed in his grave. While new postulates contend that it was some sort of gerbil or other fauna that placed the flora there.. the truth is that we will never ever truly know what went down when this man died,
I tend to think that I prefer it have been grave good, that folks that loved him placed flowers over him because it seemed like a nice send off to another world, a gentle goodbye with blooming plants (they had pollen) strewn about his body.
I may be homosapienpomorphizing the event, but I think that my reverence for my deceased ancestors is great enough of an instinct that it is something more ancient than something that was started to help feed money to the Chinese (who by reputation own all our cemeteries).
Whenever I drive past the cemetery when my own maternal grandfather is buried, I (and the rest of my immediate family) say “Hi Grandpa Honey, we love you”. I consider that a grave good. One which is not tangible enough to be picked up by modern day archaeological methods, but is one none the less. It is ritualized, recurrent and rhythmic.
Which brings to mind requiems, another grave good that in some cases are purchased to commemorate a loved one. I take a particular fancy to them. It may be that as a woman raised by Ecuador I am sensitive to the glorious withing the sad or it may be that I understand the sentimental withing the mundane. I know that my family has had this tendency to ritualize those who have passed away in various ways; through creating museum quality collections that are donated, paintings, and other assorted kinds of grave goods… because in the end, it is about celebrating within the sadness. Isn’t it?
And you can’t have the joy without the grief – it’s why we listen to Mozart’s ‘Requiem.’
~ Andre Dubus III