Burial Practices During the Dark Age

By about 1100 BCE, a number of changes can be identified in the archaeological record affecting burial practices, settlements, and pottery styles. In many regions, the Mycenaean custom of burial in family vaults was suddenly replaced by a new single burial practice, while cremation was adopted in some areas. Regional variations in burial practices have been identified and also different practices coexisting within the same community.

  • Attica. In Athens, inhumation in pit and cist graves was a dominant burial practice recorded in the Kerameikos cemetery prior to 1050 BCE. Between 1100 and 1050 BCE, similar burial practices were used in Athens and Salamis and both places show little grave evidence for wealth distinction. During the Protogeometric period, cremation became the main funerary practice, and the incinerated remains were placed inside an amphora, which was then placed inside a pit along with grave goods, filled with earth, and covered by a stone slab. Gender distinction was emphasized in Athens: weapons and large kraters were linked to men, while jewelry and amphorae were connected to women. By the late 8th century BCE, inhumation became the dominant burial practice again.
  • Euboea. In Lefkandi, both cremation and inhumation were practiced. Different variations existed for both: cremated remains could be placed in a cist or left on the pyre, and inhumations could take place in cist or shaft graves. In some towns, pit-inhumations were recorded under house floors. At Eretria a mix of cremation and inhumation was found in the same cemetery.
  • Thessaly. Here some aspect of Mycenaean burial practices persisted, such as small tholos tombs (widely present during Mycenaean times), which continued to be built throughout the Dark Age. Several cist grave cemeteries (used largely for children in the beginning) are recorded, including multiple burials in rock-cut chamber tombs. Other practices include slab-covered pits dug in the floor of vaulted chambers (some of them containing cremated remains), cremation in cists, and pyres grouped together and covered by a communal tumulus.
  • Crete. Chamber tombs remained in use in some areas (e.g. Knossos) where collective burial was the norm, but many of the chamber tombs found here were abandoned after no more than two generations. Gender and age distinction was emphasized in Knossos through grave goods, but this practice is abandoned by the 10th century BCE.

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