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Time and Genealogical Consciousness in the Mortuary Practices of the Yayoi Period, Japan

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image of Journal of East Asian Archaeology

This paper considers the significance of mortuary practices in the Yayoi period of Japan (ca. 400 BC–275/300 AD). It begins with the premise that cemeteries, as material traces/conditions of mortuary practices, are a specific type of locale where people gave a specific material form/expression to their experience of the world, by burying the dead in a specific manner. An in-depth investigation into the formation processes and spatial structure of some examples of Middle Yayoi-period cemeteries has revealed significant variations in these dimensions. This can be related to the different manners in which the socially-constructed memory and image of the dead and the ancestors were mobilized in mortuary ceremonies, for the confirmation of the social positions of both the deceased and those who buried them. It is argued that different practices were particularly related to different depths in genealogical reckoning, and it is further interpreted that genealogical continuity and depth became an important resource for the emergent elite lineages in the consolidation of their social position, as flexible realignment in affinal relations became important for the emergent commoners in the Middle Yayoi, the period which witnessed the rapid rise of social complexity.


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