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Abstract

This review of archaeological and ethnographic literature on secondary burial practices explores how different theoretical understandings of the body inform interpretations of mortuary practice as a forum for negotiations of identity and community among the living. Tension between various scales of identity – personal and corporate – assumed by the deceased are shown to be key elements in many of these negotiations. The materiality of the body can allow participants to explore these tensions through physical manipulations that are part of ritual practice. However, ethnographic examples suggest that multiple interpretations can exist for similar practices, and that secondary burial practices are often mutable and fluid in meaning. While historically contingent, variations in practice can become a means of group identification or differentiation.

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