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Rituals of Death (Hardback)

From Prehistoric Times to Now

P&S History > Social History

By Dr Stan Beckensall
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 176
Illustrations: 32 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399098373
Published: 3rd February 2023



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We all must die, and how society deals with the disposal is fascinating in the way it reflects the beliefs of the people of the time and ways in which they honour or do not honour the dead. Having excavated prehistoric burials, the author weighs carefully the evidence of what people might have thought of the dead through the way they buried them and what was put into the graves. These excavations were done mainly with the help of young people, and the way that this has been organised in order to get the maximum information has been an essential part of the task. The author provides much detail of this that makes it more interesting and personal.

Burial customs change, so the book includes a section on events such as the Black Death and cholera to show how such catastrophes change people's minds and customs.

The present problem of burial has been highlighted as it was then by the horror of an invisible disease, the effects of which we have to cope with. In the past the causes of the disease, when discovered, led to Public health inquiries into the causes, and to improvements in some burial grounds. The traditional burial in “God's little Acre' around a church provides with much information about people through their headstones and other monuments – something accessible to all who visit our churches today, and examples from Northumberland give a typical range of what we find there.

"There is much I could say or repeat from this excellent hard backed book of 200 pages, revealing more of the history and captivation of a study that involves us all at some time, Mr Beckensall has opened up a study that many of us will dwell on for extended periods of our own lives, and I thank him profoundly for this excellent book."

Cumbria FHS

"This is a profusely-illustrated book, many from the author's works in Northumberland, with a useful bibliography."

Journal of the Bristol & Avon Family History Society - June 2023 - Number 192

This is a pretty comprehensive book about death and the rituals associated with burials. It's easy to understand and also has dedicated a little bit of the book to black death and other catastrophes. I really enjoyed this book. I feel like it changed my perspective concerning death rites.

NetGalley, Annalisa Alberti

An excellent and fascinating book that has been beautifully written but not in an overly sensible way. The pictures throughout the book are brilliant and actually tell the story, I’ve now learnt to look at the whole headstone including the back. I thoroughly recommend this book to all.

Read full review here

The History Fella

I was really intrigued by the title and description for this book, and it certainly sounds like one that would have a great insight into how humans have celebrated and marked death and their dead loved ones through time, from prehistoric to modern day.

The book was well laid out and there was plenty of detail. There were quite a lot of images added that illustrated the different sections, along with photographs of some of the markers found, be these formal gravestones or carved and etched stones that highlighted the area in times gone by.

I liked the commentary that was added to the photos. It was a very easy and enjoyable book to read too as it covered social history and the habits and traditions of those that lives in the past. It was a great way to be able to look back in time to how they would have grieved and remembered those that they had lost.

It is 4 stars from me for this one, highly recommended

NetGalley, Donna Maguire

Rituals of Death by Stan Beckensall is a book that looks at how society treats its dead, from the ceremonies to the graves. It starts with the cairns and henges of the prehistoric eras and ends with the monuments and mausoleums of today, showing how the treatment of the dead has evolved and changed with time.

The subject is a fascinating one, and I am glad for all the pictures--a great deal of the book is, in fact, photographs. It is also interesting to hear from the author, who took part in excavations firsthand and is so able to impart his knowledge.

NetGalley, Devon Syndram

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This intriguing book is a look at how humans have celebrated and marked death and their dead loved ones through time, from prehistoric to modern day.
The author is incredibly knowledgeable and almost all of the sites mentioned or pictured in this book are ones he has personally worked on or visited extensively, this adds a great deal of personal details to the sites, rather than a photograph and brief description.
It's a very interesting book, with very valuable information, such as what symbols found on gravestones mean and the way people are buried, information left behind on grave markings in stone and how much themes seem to run through certain eras of burial and change throughout time.
I was particularly pleased to read the reburial part of the book as I have often wondered what happens to the bones that are found during excavation, building works or general disturbance of the earth and it doesn't sit well that they're probably disposed of in not very respectful ways, especially during the early days of archaeology.

A very informative book!

NetGalley, Cheryl Purnell

I loved this. It had me thinking about ancient people's and modern death rituals. We aren't that different. They just probably didn't have to remortgage a house to have a person buried. Of course, it did talk about the differences between the rich and the poor.
The photos helped illustrate the story too.

NetGalley, Jamie Carter Park

This book opens the door to topics which are often taboo and fearlessly asks and answers questions about death, which, after all, comes to us all. I particularly enjoyed the analysis of disaster and crisis on what is and is not accepted, especially in the context of the Bubonic Plague.

NetGalley, Louise Gray

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I took a death and dying class in college one year and always thought it was interesting that it's something we have in common. So I was excited to read about Rituals of Death in different cultures. It was a fascinating read and was invested in reading this book.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer

About Dr Stan Beckensall

Dr Stan Beckensall, BA (Hons.)Dip,Ed, FSA Scot, Hon. D.Litt , MBE
Stan has published over 40 books, mainly on History, but also poetry, drama, place and field names and local history.
Archaeology began as an interesting hobby for him, and he became prominent internationally in it, particularly in researching Prehistoric rock art, for which he has won many awards. He has given many talks and broadcasts, and raised money through them for local charities. He founded the Mid -Sussex Archaeological Society and is President of the North of the Wall Tynedale Association.
He lives in Hexham, and his working life has been spent in teaching at many levels.

Perfect Partner

A History of Death in 17th Century England (Paperback)

Death was a constant presence in the lives of the rich and poor alike in seventeenth-century England, being much more visible in everyday existence than it is today. It is a highly important and surprisingly captivating part of the epic story of England during the turbulent years of the 1600s. This book guides readers through the subject using a chronological approach, as would have been experienced by those living in the country at the time, beginning with the myriad causes of death, including disease, war, and capital punishment, and finishing with an exploration of posthumous commemoration.…

By Ben Norman

Click here to buy both titles for £34.99
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