Menu Home

objects of life and death

Viking burial from

A Viking burial with grave goods. Used by permission, from

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 –
on medieval grave goods –
 Bone comb from the Woman's Grave of Freundorf source:wikimedia

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

Categories: Uncategorized

Tagged as:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *