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The Archaeology of AncestorsDeath, Memory, and Veneration$
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Erica Hill and Jon B. Hageman

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062518

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062518.001.0001

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Memory, Power, and Death in Chinese History and Prehistory

Memory, Power, and Death in Chinese History and Prehistory

(p.81) 3 Memory, Power, and Death in Chinese History and Prehistory
The Archaeology of Ancestors

Roderick Campbell

University Press of Florida

This chapter focuses on China, the location of some of the most influential studies of ancestors in anthropology. A key theme that emerges is that Chinese ancestors have a history: their meaning and use have shifted over time—from being inhabitants of a complex medieval thanatological system to the enshrinement of Mao Tse-tung’s body in a post-revolutionary version of ancestor veneration. The case study in this chapter explores the Late Shang site of Anyang. Its royal cemetery included massive ritual deposits, featuring bronze vessels, jade weapons, and thousands of human sacrificial victims. The archaeological evidence, combined with oracle bone inscriptions, suggests that Shang death ritual located ancestors within a politicized and hierarchical kinship system. Ancestors mediated the social landscape where power, status, and memory were constantly under negotiation by the living.

Keywords:   ancestors, cemeteries, ritual, China, sacrifice, Shang, kinship, power, status, memory

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