burial customs

burial customs
   In ancient Mesopotamia people often referred to death as "going to one's fate," "taking refuge on one's mountain," or "going to the road of one's forefathers." Whatever one called it, it was seen as a journey, and it was customary to prepare the deceased for that journey. If it was clear that a person was dying, he or she was laid in a special funerary bed, and a chair was placed beside the bed. It was thought that the deceased's soul would rest and receive its first offerings in that chair. These initial offerings - usually bread and beer - were meant to sustain the soul during its long journey to the Land of No Return.
   In preparation for the funeral, mourners washed the body, rubbed it with oil, dressed it in clean clothes, and sewed the mouth shut. A few personal items - such as toiletries and jewelry - were placed beside the body. There was a wake, in which relatives and friends came to view the body and mourn. For average people these were likely brief, small-scale gatherings, whereas the death of a ruler could inspire a long period of national mourning. Perhaps to enhance or maintain their social status, those families who could afford it sometimes hired professional mourners to supplement the real ones. During the funeral procession people sang dirges (sad songs) and uttered words of lament, perhaps not unlike the funeral speeches common today. The famous Mes-opotamian epic about the hero Gilgamesh preserves an example in the episode in which Gilgamesh openly mourns for his recently deceased friend Enkidu:
   It is for my friend Enkidu that I weep. He brought joy to the feast. He was a shield before me in the confusion of battle. . . . Great evil has taken Enkidu my friend. . . . Enkidu your eyes no longer move. Why is that? ... Enkidu I cannot feel the beat of your heart. Why is that? Great evil has taken En-kidu my friend. . . . May every wild beast mourn for Enkidu. . . . May the mountain, the hill, the valley, the very fertile earth mourn for Enkidu. . . . May the water in the sea, in the lake, in the rivers, in the dew mourn for Enkidu. . . . May the farmers [who work in their] fields mourn for En-kidu. . . . May you Elders hear my words, I weep and I mourn for En-kidu. Enkidu was my friend. (Epic of Gilgamesh 8.1-2)
   Also during the funeral procession, as well as after it, mourners went unbathed and ungroomed, and some tore their clothes in a display of grief, a custom still observed in some modern cultures.
   Meanwhile, the body rested within a terra-cotta coffin, although the poorest people had to resort to wrapping the corpse in reed mats. Ordinary folk buried the coffin in the ground, preferably near the family house, so the deceased could symbolically be near his or her loved ones. Those who could afford a family crypt, made of clay bricks and frequently dug directly beneath the family home, stacked the coffin in the crypt. However, archaeologists have found some communal cemeteries, too.
   In addition, modern excavators have discovered a number of royal Mesopota-mian tombs, which were larger and much more elaborate than those of common people. In the 1920s the great Assyriologist Charles Leonard Woolley uncovered the royal burial site at Ur in southeastern Su-meria, in which he found sixteen graves of kings and queens. The royals were buried with their servants, who probably drank overdoses of sleeping potion so that they could follow their masters and mistresses into the afterlife. In one tomb, Woolley found the remains of thirty-eight serving women. Most of these tombs had been plundered in ancient times; but two were more or less intact and showed that many grave goods were buried with the bodies, including jewelry, grooming items, weapons, cups and utensils, parlor games, musical instruments, and more. Whether the deceased person was rich or poor, relatives continued to make periodic offerings in his or her honor in the years that followed. These included water, bread, broth, beer, oil, wine, honey, or other commodities, left in containers in the tomb or at the burial spot.

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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