The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Mortuary practices of a medieval cemetery in southern Italy


Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University

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Apigliano is a medieval peasant village located in southern Italy that contains a small church with stone-lined tombs and charnel pits both within and surrounding it. The commingled nature of the skeletal remains within these burial features suggests that tombs were reused for subsequent burials. Once filled, an adjacent charnel pit was to be used as a repository for the to make room in the tomb for future burials. Each of these burial features is believed to represent a family unit. To test this hypothesis, paleodemographic methods were used to determine whether the assemblages in each burial were comprised of a mixture of males and females of various ages consistent with a family grouping.

The second research goal was to examine whether differential burial practices according to age at death were present. It is well documented that burials within churches during this period were reserved for subadults as well as individuals of status within the community. Although the residents of Apigliano were all known to be peasants, demographic analyses were used to determine if there were age biases in these burial practices.

Our results indicate that each burial feature contains assemblages consistent with family groupings supporting the hypothesis of familial tombs. Analyses of preferential burial practices revealed no significant differences between burial features outside of the church, suggesting this space was available to everyone. However, there were significant levels of subadults found interred within the church and directly surrounding the church demonstrating preferential burial in these sacred places.

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