Uncovering Hidden Stories

Religion and funerary practices

Evidence for religion and death form an important part of the archaeological record. As well as sites such as tombs (that have an obvious association with burial) and sites (such as temples) that have a known association with religion, many excavations reveal traces of intangible cultural practices that hint of religious or ritual behaviour. Today, you may come across places where people leave objects (e.g coins, prayer flags, etc). Archaeologists uncover the traces of people's devotional and funerary practices.


The Westcar Papyrus contains five fantastic stories about miracles performed by priests and magicians. The stories helped to legitimize the change from the ancient Egyptian fourth to the fifth dynasty of rulers. The text itself was written much later. The papyrus was purchased by the British adventurer Henry Westcar in 1823/1824. Recent research suggests that it may originally have come from a grave. Papyri were among the common grave goods of the Egyptian upper class.

The Attic craters, from the fourth century BC, were found in a tomb in the Iberian cemetery of Piquía (Arjona, Jaén, Spain) dating to the 1st century BC. Their iconography narrates the history of one of the last lineages of the Iberian culture. Together with their funerary context this is important in understanding the ideology of the Iberians.

This upper arm bracelet belongs to the burial goods of Amanishakheto, Kandake of Kush. It shows the extraordinary craftsmanship of Nubian goldsmiths and depicts the ram-headed god Amun in a shrine surrounded by ornaments made of multicolored glass and lapis lazuli. It was found in 1834 by the Italian surgeon and treasure hunter Giuseppe Ferlini, who leveled the pyramid of Amanishakheto at Meroë in search of gold and jewelry.

This insignia is an example of objects brought back from pilgrimages found in many European countries, including the Netherlands. This insignia is of the Poai type and is based on silver shekels from the time of the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 AD) which, during the second half of the sixteenth century, were considered to be the silver jewels of Judas.

This example of a 5th century Merovingian grave from Harmangies illustrates some characteristic burial practices and grave-goods. The objects found in the graves give hints of the roles and status of the deceased in society. Items include biconical pots, various types of bow- and disc-brooches, and especially, for male burials, weapons, like angons, battle and throwing axes (Franciscae), spearheads, swords, spatha and seaxes.

Daphni is an 11th century Byzantine monastery located in the surroundings of Athens. The church was founded back in the 6th century AD and has a long history. Decorated with many mosaic artworks, the one in the interior of the dome depicts the figure of Christ Pantocrator and is recognized for its high artistic quality. The figure of Christ Pantocrator, one of the most common religious iconographies in Orthodox Christianity, shows the son of God as omnipotent.

This icon of John the Baptist is the oldest icon of the Panagia Asinou church and is a fine example of painting of the Comnenan period. The technique of painting in egg-tempera on wood was favoured during the Middle Ages. The icon was originally placed on the templon (the barrier separating the nave from the sacraments at the altar). Its inclusion on the templon is connected to the withsacrament of baptism, a tradition which still exists today.

The Asinou icon of the Virgin with child is a product of the painting lab of Stavrovouni Monastery in Cyprus. It shows influences of the Nazarene movement of painting, in which the figures express honesty and spirituality.