Stone Bodies and Second Lives: Preserving the Person in Ancient Ethiopia

Author(s): Dil Basanti

Year: 2016


Aksum, the capital of an ancient northern Ethiopian kingdom (50-700 AD), is well known for its elaborate funerary stelae, the largest of which were carved in the impression of multi-storied “houses.” Prior to a widespread conversion to Christianity, the Aksumites buried their dead in kin-groups either in tombs or in shafts that cluster around the stelae. Human remains are often burned, fragmentary, disarticulated and jumbled, creating an impression of ephemeralness that contrasts with the permanence of the elaborate stelae and tombs. Bowls at the bases of stelae indicate the performance of ancestor veneration rites that gave deceased family members a continued presence in memory. This suggests a personhood rooted in the family, and this personhood was codified through the house symbolism as a second “body” for the family in death – one that may have had it’s own life-span. In this way, the Aksumites focused their burial practices around those rituals and symbolisms that allowed families to preserve their relationships with each other past the boundaries of life and death.

Cite this Record

Stone Bodies and Second Lives: Preserving the Person in Ancient Ethiopia. Dil Basanti. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403084)


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Spatial Coverage

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