Mortuary practice in sociohistorical and archaeological contexts: Texas, 1821-1870



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Texas A&M University


Historical accounts of mortuary display during the 19th-century and evidence from archaeological investigations at historic cemeteries can contribute substantially to our understanding of related chronological and social-status issues. An inadequate understanding of mortuary practice in Texas circa 1821 to 1870 frustrates assessment of site chronology and status-related interpretations. While there are numerous studies of individual cemeteries, there is, as of yet, no synthesis of historical and archaeological data pertaining to mortuary practices in early Texas. In response to this deficiency, this thesis provides a synthesis of mortuary practices and the availability of related paraphernalia in Texas circa 1821-1870. Data from numerous cemeteries are compiled to establish a chronology for mortuary practices and to develop a seriation of select burial furnishings as an aid in assessing status-related variation in mortuary display. Results of the study, as gleaned from archival and archaeological data, indicate that mortuary display in mid-19th-century Texas is not so much a proxy of wealth, as it is a measure of popular cultural trends and economic contexts. These findings are used to reassess cemetery chronologies and status indices, including several interments at Matagorda Cemetery (1835-present), which serve as case studies.