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Grave Reminders: Comparing Mycenaean tomb building with labour and memory

donderdag 11 juni 2020
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden

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This research explores how people shaped earth and stone into funerary monuments ca. 1600–1000 BC in southern Greece, part of the famed record of the Mycenaean civilisation popularised in the works of Homer. Using experimental and theoretical archaeology, two methods known as ‘architectural energetics’ and ‘collective memory’ were combined here to assess the burden of construction and planning. Builders crafted near-perfect replicas of tombs separated by hundreds of kilometres and years with only murky light and memory as a guide. This research builds a ‘comparative labour’ approach using a standard tomb to simplify minutiae in the construction process, which resulted in the first mimetic index of tomb building. This index was partly founded on evolutionary theories of costly signalling (attracting attention despite risks) and altruism (sacrificing individual interests for group benefits). Essentially, commissioners of large and elaborate tombs leveraged their authenticity and influence over locals with socially expensive signals to regional rivals. Unlike the Cyclopean fortifications often cited as evidence for preindustrial engineering prowess, most Mycenaean tombs were not labour-intensive, easily built by close contacts in less than a week. Relative to the cost of smaller or standard tombs, however, the largest tombs became costly signals risking cooperative support for individual or family rewards.


Prof.dr. A. Brysbaert


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Maarten Muns, adviseur wetenschapscommunicatie Universiteit Leiden
071 527 3282

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