What do our things say about us?

I was at the pub last night, catching up with an old colleague and some of his friends who also happen to live in London (it seems a lot of archaeologists have migrated this way lately).

They were telling me about this amazing celtic warrior grave that they had found in Italy, they decided he or she was a warrior because of the burial goods within the grave, they found a sword, a whet stone and some other bits and pieces. I say grave, as they then explained later it was actually a 2m long pit, the ‘grave’ goods laid out as they would have been if a full body had been interred there, but then the body had actually been cremated and (insensitively put but…) ‘poured’ along the middle.

This reminded me of a session I had at university where (I think) we were discussing early Anglo-saxon graves (so pre-Christianity) where the goods inside the graves did not necessarily match the person within, it could have been like a ‘wish’ a hope of their identity in the afterlife, men being given swords whose skeletons revealed problems which would have meant that actually they wouldn’t have been able to weild such a heavy weapon. Just like the Amesbury Archer… who actually wouldn’t have been an archer, certainly not around the time he died, he was trundling off to old Stonehenge because he was very frail and ill.

So my question is in two parts… do these goods show a representation of how the person was in their prime or does it show how the family wanted them to be in the afterlife?

And the second part of my question is (quite morbidly)… say something happened to this fair city, or when I return home something happened there and I ended up accidentally buried with a large array of my possessions, what would people think about me? How would my stuff portray me as a person?

Think about the stuff surrounding you right now, if as an archaeologist you found a skeleton or cremation with your current worldly possessions.. how would you interpret that persons life?

I think about the fact that I have a lot of books… if these survived I hope that would create the illusion that I was quite an intelligent sort of person, it could be completely factually incorrect.. but the books would speak for me.

I have, thanks to being the spoilt little girl that I am, a lot of nice jewellery (this would definitely survive in the archaeological record).. would they think I was wealthy? ha! I wish… would they look upon it and think it was all acquired in one go and not over the course of years of my dad working very hard!?

I also have a lot of toiletries… just like everyone else in the post-Christmas 3 months! Would this portray me as someone with OCD traits about personal hygeine? Would they think I was vein? They don’t know that I have these in the post-Christmas aftermath!

In my current room I also have a lot of food, would this make it look like I was interred with offerings to the gods?

I know this is a weird thing for me to have thought about, but I promise it made sense to me as I was walking home thinking about this cremated soul who had been put in a grave with goods, goods that probably weren’t of his/her choosing. I know everything within my room has been chosen and kept in there by me, so at least I’m one up there but yes… how would an archaeologist interpret me if they came along in 1000 years? How would they interpret you?


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