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burial ground[′ber·ē·əl ‚grau̇nd]
in archaeology, a place for the burial of the dead. Ancient Greek and Roman burial grounds are usually called necropolises, and Christian and Moslem places of burial, cemeteries. The first burials of the dead appeared in the Paleolithic period; however, at that time, they were performed directly at the habitation sites rather than in places set aside for that purpose.
Actual burial grounds appeared in the Mesolithic. Burials were performed according to established funerary rites, which were connected with the culture’s conception of the afterlife. Various objects (“grave goods”) were placed in the grave with the deceased; such as clothing, weapons, ornaments, household vessels and utensils, food, and the carcasses of sacrificed animals. Sometimes, persons dependent on the deceased were sacrificed and buried in the same grave with the deceased (for example, at Kul’-Oba and in the Melitopol’ Kurgan).
Two types of burials are distinguished in burial grounds: inhumation and cremation. In the latter the deceased was burned and the ashes then buried. The burial structures that were used at different times by different tribes and peoples are infinitely varied, for example, simple earthen pits, pits lined with wood or stone, catacombs, vaults, and huge burial structures, such as pyramids and mausoleums. The dead or their ashes were buried in vessels (urns), cists, or wooden frames. According to external appearance, burial grounds are usually divided into barrow burial grounds, which are marked by mounds of earth or stone, or flat-grave burial grounds (without mounds). Burial grounds with both barrows and flat graves are also encountered.
The archaeological study of a burial ground yields a wealth of material not only about an ancient population’s religious beliefs but also about other aspects of its life, including the material culture, everyday life, the economy, production and trade, family and social relationships, and art. In addition, excavations of burial grounds supply material for paleoanthropology and provide museums with ancient fully preserved objects, which are seldom encountered in investigations of settlements.
D. B. SHELOV