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In this chapter you have learned about how societies are organized and the analytical tools that archaeologists use to study social organization. This exercise allows you to put some of these tools into action.

For this activity you will be asked to visit a local graveyard. The smaller graveyards attached to older churches are ideal (you may need to get permission from the church or landowner before you complete this exercise). A notepad and pencil are all the equipment you will need.

If there is not a small graveyard you can visit, select part of a larger one. If there is no graveyard in the area you can visit, you will have to improvise. Why not visit a parking lot and, instead of graves, use the age and distribution of cars to assess social status.

Your first step is to make a map. On a piece of paper make a sketch of the outer boundaries of the site. Note any major features such as a church or large pathway.

Walking around, take a random sample of about thirty gravestones. Mark these stones with a dot on your map and record the year of death written on each one. Try to spread out the stones you choose as much as possible to cover the whole of the graveyard area. When you have finished, use your map and the observations that you have made to answer the following questions.


What is the name of the graveyard that you visited? Is the graveyard associated with any particular feature, such as a church or synagogue?


What are the oldest and youngest grave markers that you recorded?


Based on the years of death that you recorded, what can you say about the growth of the graveyard? Do you believe that the entire area of the graveyard has been in use at all times?


Do you think your sample is representative of the graveyard as a whole? Do you believe that there are unmarked graves in the graveyard?


How might social rank be determined by individual burials? Were any of the grave markers you observed obviously more ornate than those around it?

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