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Mounds for the Ancestors: Ancient Burial Practices in the Coast Salish Region

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Victoria (1998)


The construction of large-scale, permanent, and highly visible mortuary features has long been supposed to reflect the social and political dimensions of ancient societies. An example of such a mortuary tradition is the earthen burial mound and stone cairn complex which developed between 1500 and 500 years ago in the present-day Coast Salish region of the Northwest Coast. We suggest that this complex developed as a strategy to: (1) mark hereditary claims to economically important locations, (2) connect far-flung political networks of elites, and (3) differentiate between distinct social strata at the local level. Comparisons with similar mortuary complexes in other parts of the world suggest that cemeteries with visible mortuary monuments were often used to compensate for high settlement mobility, proximity to intensively used communication routes, and increased competition for settlement space and valued resources.