chapter  10
16 Pages

Death in material and mental culture

WithDouglas J. Davies

This chapter explores the interplay of thought and action surrounding death through selected key theories derived largely from social-cultural anthropology. The imaginative thought-worlds through which the very notion of 'life' has been conceived, categorised, and partnered with death parallel the pragmatic materiality of the human body whose terminal lifelessness prompts its disposal. 'Material' and 'mental' culture are aligned through the creative and imitative capacities of human beings as social animals. The corpse presents a universal symbol of both death and life as two existential elements standing as necessary complements to each other. In most developed societies the containment of the corpse within a container, in modern times that of a coffin, begins the process of removal of the dead from the living. Burial is one thing, cremation is another, yet the nature of coffins and their material culture remains significant in cremation.