3.10 The beyond and the ancestors
The beliefs in the beyond are very diverse. It is an alternative world of the dead, as opposed to the world of the living. The beyond is also a realm of the dead, where the dead reside (the Greek and Roman Underworlds, the Underworld in Norse mythology or of the ancient Egyptians, etc.) The beyond are specific, difficultly accessible places on the Earth, like mountains, caves, and forests. It is a subterranean world, the Underworld or Heaven. The beyond can be situated anywhere. In the beyond, there could be salvation. But it can also hold damnation. Ancestors possess a moral exemplary function, and can mediate between the worlds of the living and the dead. This function is for instance carried by saints in catholic Christianity, like the ʻFourteen Holy Helpersʼ. The most important rite in ancestor worship in Madagascar, is the festival of ʻthe turning of the bonesʼ, called ʻFamadihanaʼ. An example from ethnology is the tight connection with the ancestors at Nias in Indonesia.
06 ‘Farewell element’ – large
12 ‘Farewell element’ – large: Eternal?
11 A time journey
10 Religions and the soul
09 A Journey around the world
08 Touch screen: Funerals from the Stone Age until today
07 ‘Farewell element’ – small
05 ‘Spiral-like backbone’
04 ‘Farewell element’ – Death realms in Viking Age
02 Inevitability of the death
01 Cycle of Life and Death
4.1 Business with death
The imperial court in Vienna had strict mourning regulations. The lying in state, the condolence time, and the order of succession in the funeral cortège, all followed strict specifications.
At the Holy Roman Emperor Francis Iʼs nightly funeral cortège, his widow, queen Maria Theresa, arranged for the placement of candles in the windows of the houses which the procession would pass.
Figurative coffins from Ghana, made by Ghanaian artists, are famous all over the world, some of them also displayed in museums and art galleries.
3.5 A world journey (Ethnography)
Alongside inhumation and cremation burial, mummification of corpses is also well known archaeologically, particularly in Egypt. But other burial forms, like sky burial and water burial, cannot be understood archaeologically, as the remains are missing.
But reports of communities that used to practice these customs and still partially do, add to our image of the diversity of death- and mourning-rituals, and funeral customs, and open new perspectives and avenues in our dealings with dying.
At this exhibition element, the visitor encounters, by means of fascinating objects, pictures and videos, humankind worldwide in its dealings with death and mourning.
3.2 The last escort
The best is only just good enough.
Wonderful amber, from the distant Baltic region, and delicately ornate golden jewellery, is given to the dead in their grave. To whom do the things belong?
Did they previously belong to the deceased, or was it important for the living to dedicate their own best pieces to them?
Since approximately 1720, painting of skulls of exhumed dead bodies has been practiced in the Eastern Alps. With about 700 skulls the ossuary of Hallstatt possesses the largest collection. The multicolouredly painted and named skulls are stored in an ossuary, together with other bones. A painted skull of this type is displayed at the exhibition.
Farewell element – Commemorative culture –
The commemorative culture enables the continued social life of a person in a community. Statues, paintings, photographs, and death masks preserve the memory of the role of the deceased person.
ʻThe eternal uneaseʼ
ʻThe alleged modern inability to mourn, is nothing else than the eternal unease at death beyond all cultures and times.ʼ (Michaels 2010, 13)
The desire for eternal youth, and beliefs in an afterlife, are old. The quest for the ʻFountain of Youthʼ, which promises eternal youth and eternal life, are taken up in many myths. In Norse mythology, Idunn is the goddess of youth and immortality. Modern anti-ageing research is about ageing without suffering, right up to an extreme prolongation of life. By means of ʻcryonicsʼ, people have their entire body, or parts of it, conserved, in the hope of being woken up and revived in a better world in the near or far future.
Farewell element – Unusual priest‘s graves –
Since the Middle Ages, Christians have been buried without funeral objects. The corpse is wrapped in linen cloths and buried with or without a coffin. This makes some graves at the cemetery at Zwettl, in which men between 20 and 45 had been buried close to the church portal, stand out. On the upper body of the skeleton, a jar, with an downward opening, had been placed. Two of these jars had helped conceal a chalice and a wooden paten. These graves are assigned to Christian priests who were buried according to a very special rite. Until now, there have been only a very few of these, and in a very limited area. The display of one of these graves constitutes a further highlight of the exhibition.
Farewell element – Tumulus X –
Driven to the grave in a four-wheel carriage? Under a burial mound in Mitterkirchen an der Donau, in a large wooden burial chamber, a deceased female is buried with a splendidly decorated carriage. It seems like she has been driven into the grave in it. Her jewellery is laid around her, but the large number of vessels and animal bones in the grave are remnants of rituals that speak of a concern for the proper treatment of the ʻsoul of the deadʼ.
Inside the same mound, not far away, two more women are buried. Provided with lavish jewellery, they are laid next to one another in a large wooden burial chamber. One of the two wears a garment, splendidly adorned with an abundance of small bronze studs.
At the edge of the mound, a third grave is laid out: A person, whose gender is no longer determinable, is interred in a lateral, crouching position, without jewellery and grave goods, in a, for this period, very rare type of burial.
This interesting burial mound ensemble raises many questions about rites and the burial of persons.
3.9 The souls
The perceptions of what form the soul takes, differ greatly. Many communities assume a presence of many souls, which can fulfil particular functions, and which could be mortal or immortal. In the most differing religions and traditions, beliefs exist in an immortal soul in a mortal body. The views on the location of the soul are divergent: in the brain, in the heart, in the blood, etc. The placenta is often seen as having a tight connection to the soul of the child. In Cameroon, it is called the ʻlittle sisterʼ, and is buried in a jar, especially manufactured for this purpose.
Exhibits from art and ethnography offer different beliefs a chance to speak. A unique funerary ensemble from the Iron Age, never before shown in its entirety outside Austria, will be presented.
3.8 Burials without remains
Some treatments of the deceased leave no remnants. The physical body dissolves. At sea and river burials, like for example in India, the body or the bone-remnants from the previous cremation is delivered into the water. The sky burial, as practised in Tibet, abandons the corpse to the animals, after comprehensive laying-out-rites.
The Dying Swan / Ulyana Lopatkina
The signature role of the Russian prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya was ʻThe Dying Swanʼ (C. Saint-Saëns / M. Fokine). According to her last will she was to be cremated and after the death of her widower their ashes combined and spread over Russia.
3.7 A time journey (Archaeology)
Graves are the visualization of mourning and consolation for the ones left behind. Archaeology knows a variety of grave-types and funeral customs, that have been subject to continual transition.
3.6 The religions
Rites for the dead are tightly connected to the ʻreligiousʼ background of a community. Folk religion and superstition determine many rituals.
Ludwig Feuerbach believed that ʻif death had not existed, there would not be any religionʼ.
Religions provide death with meaning and content. They remind one of the finiteness of life, and give the deceased person or their soul a ʻnewʼ place in the community.
For prehistory, no ʻreligionʼ can be ascertained, but what intention stands behind the objects in the graves?
3.3 The grave
The grave, in our western society, serves as a reminder, as consolidation of the family affiliation, and as a display of social position.
The grave contains the physical remains of the deceased. Diverse customs and rites determine the interment and the preceding processes. Additionally, numerous variants of repeated grave disposals exist.
For nonliterate prehistory we depend on interpretations of the preserved graves. For this, we draw upon, amongst other things, whatever can be utilized from ethnographic accounts, antique writings, and, if nothing else, even from experiences and rites of our own culture.
3.4 Touch screen
At this exhibition element interesting funerals and grave situations are visualized (and possibly animated). The visitor undertakes a journey around the world, to some of the most exciting and touching funerals from the Stone Age until today: The 7000 year old grave of a woman with her newborn; a dead body with injuries, buried in a pit by a settlement, and ʻcoveredʼ with cattle bones; Christian symbols, mixed with ʻtraditional onesʼ in the grave, indicating a progressing Christianisation; unbaptized newborns, buried very close to the church wall and under the church eaves, in the hope that they attain redemption; peculiar age-rituals through which old people in Nepal are prepared together with one another for death; reburial; and much more.
Farewell element – Graves under hills –
During the Middle Bronze Age, about 3600 years ago, in extensive areas of today‘s Europe, the dead were buried beneath burial mounds. Pitten in Lower Austria is one of the most significant burial grounds in Central Europe of this period, with outstanding burials.
Farewell element – Hallstatt –
The small village by the lake has been inhabited for thousands of years. Since 2010, a replica of it, faithful to the original, has existed as far away as China.
In the high valley above the village, salt has been mined on a grand scale since the Bronze Age, of about 3500 years ago. During the Iron Age, from about 2800 years ago, a large cemetery which is estimated to have contained several thousand graves, was situated outside the salt mine. Many generations of miners and their families are buried there.
It is not only remarkable that the alternative customs of cremation and inhumation existed side by side. The exceptional burial objects and unusual disposal methods emphasizes the uniqueness of this site, and has made its cemetery world-renowned. At the exhibition, we display specifically chosen graves with their burial objects.
Mourning and mourning-rites connect life and death. The rites help the ones left behind at overcoming the loss.
Rites for the dead offer help to the souls of the departed. Sumptuous and valuable burial objects can be interpreted as accompaniment and support for the deceased. ʻReligiousʼ sacrificial rituals have the purpose of bestowing gifts upon the gods. Any religious community possesses its own sacrificial rites.
Farewell element – Cemetery of the Early Bronze Age –
Franzhausen, one of the largest cemeteries of the Early Bronze Age, ca. 4200 years ago. More than 2100 people lie buried there. While the men are buried on their left side, faces directed southwards, the women are lying on their right side with their heads in the north, but also gazing southwards. Some deceased seem to have been wrapped in cloths, while exceptional jewellery and garments have been kept on the body.
The mourning of the ones left behind
Grief is a natural reaction to the loss of a human being or a creature, to the end of a relationship.
Rites of farewell and mourning function as consolation for the ones left behind.
All communities provide their own grieving process, that continually is subject to transitions. Graves are visible remnants of death- and mourning-rites.
From prehistory they are the only ones. They require an interpretation, however.
Original iron spikes, dating from a Viking grave in Birka (Sweden), ca. 9th /10th century.
One of the many death realms in Viking Age Scandinavia was that of the two-faced Hel. Anyone who died a natural death arrived here. But the way there was troublesome and very dangerous. The roads and rivers that had to be traversed were icy. Spikes were put into the grave to help enable a secure arrival in the realm of the dead.
The rebirth connects beginning and end, and removes the finality of the incomprehensible death.
In Hades, the realm of the dead in Greek mythology, the deceased exist on only as shy shadows. Only later emerges the belief in the immortality of the soul. In Tibetan Buddhism, life and death are strongly interwoven. In Sumatra ship cloth represent a conception of afterlife settling the realm of the dead on the water, beyond the water or on isles of the dead.
Explaining the incomprehensible – the soul lives
According to J. Assmann, the attempts at explaining death constitute an essential element of human ʻcultureʼ.
Every community develops their own unique and specific explanatory model.
Myths and legends of our origin justify manʼs mortality (Audio point).
2b.1 Remaining alive
The notion of an immortal soul, defeating death and continuing life in the beyond, is very widespread. Conceptions of this afterlife are very diverse.
The ʻBatakʼ in Sumatra have a comprehensive conception of the soul. Their death-realm has no fixed location, and the souls of the dead occupy the entire environment.
The rites of the ʻKonsoʼ in South Ethiopia at the event of a death are not directed towards a beyond, but at a farewell from the mortal world. Reports of a life after death are scarce.
In Japan, at the Obon festival, the dead return to the mortal world on the 15th of August, and are received with great celebration, for to so once more be accompanied back to the cemetery.
2a.1 Medicine – Disease
When the field of medicine is mainly tasked with the prolonging of life, it feels guilty and responsible when a human being dies. On the other side is dying with dignity, without pain, and not in loneliness.
In art, the Danse Macabre arises as a reaction to the horrible plague epidemic in 14th century Europe: human beings invited by ʻDeathʼ for a dance, independent of class, age and gender.
Lastly, the ars moriendi – ʻthe Art of Dyingʼ, teaches the preparation for a good death.
Repression of the incomprehensible – the body leaves
Through repression, man seeks to fend off the fear of death.
Real death is banned from life – real dying and mourning remains concealed.
1.1 Each time its own death
According to Voltaire, it is the knowledge of oneʼs own death that makes humans human. Our ways of dealing with the inevitable reality of death is culturally informed.
The ʻtamedʼ, omnipresent death of the Middle Ages formed almost a natural part of life. Death had, according to Ariès, become ʻtamedʼ.
During the Middle Ages this death-culture changed, and today, in our modern industrial society, the dying and mourning experiences are concealed from the community: The ʻanonymousʼ death of today (Ariès)?
ʻMedia vita in morte sumusʼ – ʻIn the midst of life we are in deathʼ (8th or 9th century AD)
In our exhibition, ʻBetween Life & Death – Rites of Farewellʼ, we define the first breath of air, the moment of birth, as the entry into earthly human life. But life on earth is fleeting, and with birth, the end, or death, is also already established.
But is there something after death? And if, what is after?
Death separates – The fear of it, and mourning, unites.
203 x 152 cm