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The roots and evolution of the culture-of-death. A taphonomic research of the European Paleolithic record

Project description

Multi-taphonomic study of European fossil records to uncover origins of funerary practices

Death and mortality is an experience shared by all humans. This is why death plays an important role in almost all cultures around the world. A central part of this shared experience is the presence of funerary rites and practices. However, little is known about when these practices emerged. The EU-funded DEATHREVOL project aims to reach a conclusion on the time of the first emergence of this 'culture of death'. As such, it will conduct classical and innovative taphonomic analyses in addition to researching fossil records concerning samples from the Middle Pleistocene and European Paleolithic periods to find traces of funerary rites. The project's results will reveal important insights regarding various behavioural aspects of these early populations.


There can be no more profound insight into the human mind than the complex cultural practices surrounding death. While all human cultures across the globe today engage in funerary practices, the emergence of funerary behavior is one of the most contentious aspects in the field of human evolution. New methodological approaches on taphonomy field can help elucidate fundamental facets of hominin behavior making important contributions to the understanding of our ancestors. The European fossil record is a key source of information in this regard due to the relative abundance of fossil skeleton, many of which have been interpreted as burials, and the possibility for biological and cultural interactions between different human species. Nevertheless, direct taphonomic analyses on these human fossils are rare and essentially limited to those cases with possible signs of cannibalism. The present application proposes a multidisciplinary research project to investigate the origin of funerary behavior during the Middle Pleistocene and to trace this behavior throughout the European Paleolithic archaeological record. This project aims to address the dearth of taphonomic studies on Paleolithic hominins and represents the first large-scale project focused on a thorough multi-taphonomic study of the European fossil record. This involves the participation of a wide team of scholars and a network of methods including classical and innovative taphonomic analyses, virtual reconstructions for forensic analysis, study of spatial distribution patterns, the global relationship of different sites, and mathematical models to interconnect the broad-spectrum data gathered. The results have the potential to significantly alter our views on behavioral aspects of European Paleolithic populations. In particular, the results will examine whether mortuary practices and, hence a culture of death, predated the appearance of modern humans and Neandertals.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 494 486,00
09002 Burgos

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Centro (ES) Castilla y León Burgos
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 494 486,00

Beneficiaries (1)