This round building is a reconstruction of a burial house built on this location over 600 years ago. The size and shape of the building were based on evidence gained through scientific archaeological excavation.
The outer walls were made of upright posts covered with wattle and daub. The roof was made of poles lashed together and covered with straw thatching on the outside, and river cane on the inside. A small central hearth provided light and warmth for visitors to the burial house. Other similar structures may have been located within the stockaded walls. Each clan or extended family group may have had its own burial hut.
Burial in the mortuary house was only part of a larger death ritual, which may have lasted for days. During this mourning ceremony, clan members would gather to feast, console each other, and play music to honor the deceased. Priests or religious leaders would bless the dead before burial. To prepare the body for journey to the Afterlife, special treatments, such as painting with pigments or adornment with ornaments, would be done by clan members. For children, who may have had a short life history, shell beads or gorgets symbolizing clan identity were placed in the grave. Containers of food for the journey to the Afterlife were also placed in the burial pit. Other grave goods, such as copper ornaments or axes, rattles, or discs, symbolized status or ranking within the clan. Copper, imported from the Great Lakes region, and conch shells, traded in from the coast, were "exotic" status markers. Medicine bundles were also included in the graves of some adults.
At least four types of burial positions were discovered through archaeological excavations at the site. The position of the body in each grave reflected differences in age, sex, or status of the individual being interred. For example, the bodies of infants and young children were often placed in ceramic pots or urns, and then placed into the ground. Religious or political leaders may have had their upper body placed on a litter before burial, with the lower legs bound together. Other members of the clan may have been laid flat on their backs (or supine) in the grave. Still other deceased members of the clan were placed in the grave in a flexed (or fetal) position, often wrapped in split-cane mats or skins.
Organic materials, including the human body, decompose when buried in the ground. For this reason, archaeologists must be extremely careful during excavations to recover all traces of original materials. Clothing made of animal skins or hides would not survive in the ground after many years of burial. Likewise, most pigments used to paint the body would not survive. Therefore, interpretation of these burial practices is based on tradition and ethnohistorical research. Food stuffs placed in the ceramic pots, gourd containers, or shell cups, would also disappear except for microscopic or chemical evidence.
As a guest to this burial ritual we ask that you view this scene with respect. Members of the Deer clan have gathered to bury a small child. The small wrapped bundle which contains the child's body will be carefully placed in the ceramic urn and then lowered into the ground. The Priest is present to bless the body and guide its spirit into the Afterlife. He will also bless any grave goods, such as clan symbols, placed in the urn with the body. The Mother is here to place a string of shell beads around the child's neck so she will be recognized by her ancestors in the Afterlife. The young girl is the child's cousin, and daughter of the aunt and uncle. The aunt holds the urn cover. The uncle, who served as a clan father (or provider) to the child, is here to show his respect. Other members of the clan wait outside but share in the mourning and grieving at the loss of this child.
Proceed to Mortuary Exhibit.