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
DILPREET SINGH, then a graduate student at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, was awarded a grant in October 2018 to aid research on “Producing Death, Producing Persons: Ancestors and Social Inequality in Ancient Aksum, Ethiopia (50 – 400 AD),” supervised by Dr. Amanda Logan. This project investigates the cultural production of death at three cemeteries in ancient Tigray, Ethiopia (980 BC – 1400 AD). In Western history, the rise of individualism is often associated with increasing alienation from the dead. In contrast, early ethnographies on post-mortem ritual previously emphasized the importance of group personhoods that extend beyond the life-death boundary. Death is then partially culturally produced, so that the death of the person does not always coincide with the death of the body. Yet “group” and “individual” personhoods often exist in dynamic interplays and are impacted by processes such as globalization. Interrogating these issues, this project uses micro-CT histology and stable isotope analysis to help investigate the changing nature “ancestors” and social dynamics across three successive cemeteries in northern Ethiopia (980 BC -1400 AD). Data supports the association of community “grouphood” to varied productions of “general ancestors”. Data also show a dramatic intensification in the production of ancestors just as Aksum’s increasing globalization with the ancient Indian Ocean led to greater social differentiation between Aksumite family groups (50-400 AD). Ultimately, this research then highlights how ancient Ethiopians innovated new traditions to retain connections with departed loved ones through periods of acute social change.