The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Burial patterns at the Chelechol ra Orrak cemetery, Republic of Palau


Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon

Thursday All day, Park Concourse Add to calendar

The Chelechol ra Orrak cemetery (ca. 1700-3000 BP) in the Republic of Palau is one of the earliest and largest burial grounds in Remote Oceania. Prior to our 2012 excavations, elements representing approximately 30 individuals had been recovered, but little had been revealed concerning basic mortuary behaviors such as burial orientation, interment style, propensity of grave goods, and other aspects important for understanding burial practices and processes. With nine square meters of the burial zone now excavated, and several complete or partial skeletons recovered, a better picture of the Orrak cemetery is emerging. To date, all individuals discovered lie on their backs in an extended position with the feet together and the hands placed in the pelvic region. Burial orientation shows no pattern of individuals lying in a particular cardinal direction. The narrow graves appear to be simple trenches dug into the coarse, loose, limestone sand. Although sometimes partially lined along the sides with rocks, this seems to have been done to prevent the grave from collapsing. Although pearl shell scrapers were found with two previously excavated burials, no grave goods were discovered during the most recent excavations. These aspects, and other evidence, point to a quick burial process that included little attention to body placement within the cemetery and apparently little concern for disturbing previous burials. The mortuary practices at Orrak appear remarkably utilitarian and may reflect the more egalitarian nature of early settlers to the archipelago prior to more complex forms of behavior that emerged centuries later.

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