Funerary practices provide important clues about the interaction between the living and the dead. The dead may be interred inside our outside the house, in raised earthen mounds, in communal spaces, or sometimes outside the settlemant or in caves. As funerary archaeologists, we study the position of the skeleton and the articulation of the different bones in the grave to understand how the body was treated in death. Forensic studies help us understand the process of decay of the soft parts of the body, and how the bones subsequently become displaced within the grave. The pattern of displacement of the bones tells us if the deceased individual was buried in a seated position, or on his/her back, side, or face down, and whether the burial pit was filled with soil at the time of placement, or left open for a while. The position of the bones can also inform us whether the body was mummified when placed in the pit. On many islands, we have observed that long bones and skulls were taken from the grave after the body had decayed to a skeleton. This practice, which was also described by early European chroniclers of the late 15th through the 17th centuries, is probably related to ancestor worship among the Indigenous people. After the imposition of Christianity, such customs rapidly disappeared.
Photo: Kelbey's Ridge 2, Burial F132, composite burial with female adult and young born child (Hoogland, M.L.P & Hofman, C.L., 1993. Kelbey's Ridge 2, A 14th Century Taino settlement on Saba, Netherlands Antilles. Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, Leiden).