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objects of life and death

Viking burial from lore-and-saga.co.uk

A Viking burial with grave goods. Used by permission, from http://www.lore-and-saga.co.uk/

So, one of the key catalysts for my decision to study psychology was an obsession with grave goods. I’ve long been interested in “things”: the physicality of objects, the significance of touch and weight in our perception of the world; our relationship with our belongings, what they mean to us, what they say about us; why we hoard, why we let things go; the transience of things, what fades and what remains. Russell Belk’s idea of the Extended Self is of particular interest.

Then one day, watching a documentary on early humans I was utterly captured by the simplicity of Natufian posessions – not, in this case, grave goods, but rather, belongings set aside: the person’s entire life in a simple leather bag.
“There was a sickle for harvesting wild wheat or barley, a cluster of flint spearheads, a flint core for making more spearheads, some smooth stones (maybe slingshots), a large stone (maybe for striking flint pieces off the flint core), a cluster of gazelle toe bones which were used to make beads, and part of a second bone tool.”
These were simple practical tools, and the elements of decorative craft, so personal, tangible and alive.
Immigration Museum Victoria wrote of the find:
Some time during the late Ice Age, a hunter laid down a tool bag, in a dark corner of his house, at the end of a day’s foraging. The toolkit lay undisturbed until it was excavated some 14,000
years later”.
Thoughts of the find rattled around in my brain for a long time. I’ve so many half-formed ideas about it.
Natufian toolkit

There’s always art: beads, engraving, some object whose purpose is solely decoration, however marginal life might be we value decoration. There is often a weapon, a sword, shield; a comb for the hair made of bone or shell; pins or brooches, sometimes eating and drinking vessels. Domestic tools – spindle whorls, whetstones. In many cultures there’s a belief that these things are needed for the afterlife, but I also wonder about a person’s connection with their objects: how often do we really *use* something that belonged to someone who has passed away, and how often do we hold on to it as a relic of their existence?

So anyway. That’s what I’m thinking about thismorning as I ponder psychology, art and history.

natufian – http://sydney.edu.au/arts/sophi/neaf/news/toolkit.shtml
on medieval grave goods – http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13576275.2013.870544#tabModule
 Bone comb from the Woman's Grave of Freundorf source:wikimedia

Bone comb from the Woman’s Grave of Freundorf source:wikimedia

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