Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationNorthwestern U.
Grant numberGr. 9765
Approve DateOctober 24, 2018
Project TitleSingh, Dilpreet, Northwestern U., Evanston, IL - To aid research on 'Producing Death, Producing Persons: Ancestors and Social Inequality in Ancient Aksum, Ethiopia (50 - 400 AD),' supervised by Dr. Amanda Logan
Preliminary abstract: This project looks at the cultural production of death and ancestorhood in the Aksumite kingdom in ancient Ethiopia (50- 700 AD). In Western history, the rise of individualism in burial practice is associating with increasing distance between the living and the dead. At Aksum, however, observations of mortuary material suggest these relationships remain strong, and the more general literature on ‘ancestors’ across Africa provides an alternative engagement with biological death. Death then becomes understood culturally produced, so that the death of the person does not always coincide with the death of the body. Notions of personhood help elaborate this place of death in wider social relations, most often by exploring tensions of individualist and group dimensions to personhood. Whereas individual personhoods are associated with the ‘forbidden death’ that defines the Western experience, ancestor traditions are often more associated with group personhood. Yet this project seeks to more critically explore these associations, and to help elaborate the category of ancestors and the roles they might play in society. More specifically, this project will evaluate mortuary and bioarchaeological data to better nuance how ideals of grouphood structured the Aksumite social experience as embodied by the skeleton. It will then use archaeohistology to explore whom among Aksumite social groups became ancestors and better situate their place in Aksumite social structure. Taken together, these data can help us understand how death was differentially produced amongst Aksumites and implicated in larger structures of social inequality.