When we compare the burial site at Varna dating back to 4000 BCE to those in Egypt and China, what can we learn about the importance of burying the dead across these societies?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The burial site of a wealthy man found at Varna, along the coast of the Black Sea, shows that the citizens of Varna held similar beliefs about the afterlife as the ancient Egyptians. The burial site dates back to 4000 BCE, which is also the era ancient Egyptian burial rites date back to.

What tells us most about the afterlife beliefs held the people of Varna are the artifacts found in the burial site. The wealthy man was buried with large drinking and storage receptacles; hundreds of gold objects, including jewelry and decorations; and weapons (Varna Museum of Archeology, "The Middle Eneolithic Age"). When one compares this list of artifacts to those found in ancient Egyptian burial sites and asks why these artifacts were buried along with the dead, one is left to reach the conclusion that the people of Varna and the people of Egypt shared similar beliefs.

Like the people of Varna, Egyptians were buried with items the deceased person took pleasure in and valued while alive. Such items included things they used in their day-to-day lives, such as make-up pots, mirrors, and games. Deceased persons were also buried with as much gold and jewelry as their families could afford to give. Other artifacts included weapons and Shabti Dolls. The reason why Egyptians were buried with so many artifacts is because Egyptians believed that the afterlife was a perfect version of the life the deceased person lived on earth; they called this afterlife the Field of Reeds. Hence, the Egyptians believed that the deceased would carry with them into the Field of Reeds all of the valued possessions they had on earth, and the more items of usage and wealth they were buried with, the happier their lives would be in eternity. Since all Egyptians wanted themselves and those they loved to live the happiest life possible for all eternity, they considered burying their dead using their burial rites to be absolutely essential.

Therefore, if we see similar artifacts being buried with the deceased in burial sites such as Varna, then we know that the citizens of that society held similar beliefs as the Egyptians. Since the deceased man found at Varna was discovered to have been buried with items of daily use, items of wealth, and weapons, just like the deceased in Egypt, we can conclude that the people of Varna did so because they also believed the deceased would carry these items with them into the afterlife. And, just like the Egyptians, since happiness for eternity is essential, the people of Varna would have placed significant value in their burial rites.

One difference we do see, however, between the burial site at Varna and those in Egypt is that a skeleton was found in the Varna site, whereas the Egyptians, even the poorest of the Egyptians, believed in embalming. The reason why the Egyptians embalmed is because they believed that even the body needed to remain intact in order for the soul to journey into the afterlife. If the people of Varna did not embalm, it could either be because they were unfamiliar with the chemicals and process or because they didn't hold this same belief.