In Death Do We Join: Community Building in Ancient Ethiopian Funerary Practices

Author(s): Dil Basanti

Year: 2015


Aksum was the capital of northern Ethiopian kingdom that is famous for its numerous pre-Christian funerary stelae dating to the first four centuries A.D. The six largest stelae employ a peculiar "house" symbolism carved into their surfaces. Art historians have also noted that later Christian churches in the Ethiopian highlands, also sites for burial, mimic the layouts of old Aksumite elite houses. Beyond this, there has been little serious interpretation on what the "house" symbolism indicates or its significance to the two traditions. Reviewing Aksumite burial practices, I argue here that the stelae served an integrative purpose for Aksumite corporate groups, and that the "house" symbolism is an extension of these identity-building efforts. I then suggest that the ideology guiding these practices continues into the Christian era and serves a similar integrative role through Christian churches; resulting in a variation of the "house" symbolism. In this way, the syncretism observed with the "house" symbolism arises from common community-building processes among the two traditions.

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Cite this Record

In Death Do We Join: Community Building in Ancient Ethiopian Funerary Practices. Dil Basanti. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396717)


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min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;