Cover image for The buried soul : how humans invented death
The buried soul : how humans invented death
Taylor, Timothy, 1960 July 10-
Publication Information:
Boston : Beacon Press, 2004.

Physical Description:
x, 353 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Fourth Estate, 2002.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GT3150 .T26 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A groundbreaking investigation of the human soul that encompasses vampirism, cannibalism, near-death experiences, and modern-day human sacrifice. "I never would have thought that archaeology would be so interesting, so relevant to how we think today . . . and so disturbing. In The Buried Soul, Timothy Taylor tells a provocative and often grisly tale. This is a fascinating book, grippingly written, of considerable scope and ambition." -Paul Bloom, professor of psychology, Yale University Archaeologist Timothy Taylor has spent his life sifting through the relics of our ancestors' encounters with death: early historical accounts of sacrifice, ancient rituals with echoes in the present, monumental sarcophagi, and bodies discovered in caves, in bogs, and on mountains. In The Buried Soul, Taylor presents evidence of how the ancients saw their universe and asks how we came to have not only a sense of the afterlife but also an image of the soul. After we began to speak but before we could write, Taylor suggests that early humans, in an astonishing conceptual leap, separated the body from the spirit that animated it. Thus arose a series of rituals that attempted to placate, tempt, scapegoat, destroy, or contain this potentially malevolent spirit. In the tradition of the best-selling Stiffed, The Buried Soul is a worldwide exploration of the rites and rituals of death. Taylor's search spans all of human history and interweaves the author's own experience of bewildering deaths. By combining cutting-edge science, personal insight, and scholarship, The Buried Soul is a radical voyage into sepulchral worlds.

Author Notes

Timothy Taylor teaches in the Department of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Taylor's entertaining, if grisly, interpretative history turns the raw gleanings of two centuries of archaeology on their head. Referencing his own experience, as well as others' documented discoveries, he expounds on the pervasiveness of such practices as funerary cannibalism, vampirism, and human sacrifice, and he poses the question, Which came first, the notion of the soul or the ceremonial burial of remains? His conclusions, as he acknowledges, may be somewhat unsettling. Caches of bones, pottery shards, and tools reveal only the most basic clues, and the majority of archaeologists, filtering those clues through their modern visceral insulation from things pertaining to death, are, by Taylor's lights, unable to acknowledge how prevalent cannibalism and ritual sacrifice were and are. Furthermore, while widespread popular thought maintains that humans acquired belief in the soul first and then developed ritual burial, Taylor considers the reverse to be more accurate: the immortal soul was invented as a result of the first burial ceremonies. Taylor demonstrates, albeit in highly scholarly style, the value of postulating well-developed, opposing points of view. --Donna Chavez Copyright 2004 Booklist

Choice Review

The author says that this book is about the human response to death from prehistory to the present, and it is that in part. It is also a potpourri. A central topic is the concept of the soul and how it might have originated. There are stories about various mortuary finds--some prehistoric, some modern--in western Europe (mainly England), northern Europe, and the Middle East, but, except for brief mention of Aztec human sacrifice, the Americas are omitted. One chapter deals with cannibalism, one with vampires, another is an account (based on a document of unknown provenance) of a slave-girl's rape and ritualized killing. Taylor (archaeology, Univ. of Bradford, UK) tells of his grandfather's death when the author was six years old and his mother's accusation that the child was to blame. He recounts his feelings when he was under anesthesia as a hospitalized child and writes of inflicting multiple knife incisions on himself. This book would probably be out of place in an undergraduate library. ^BSumming Up: Not recommended. E. Wellin emeritus, University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. ix
Introduction: Sentiments and Chronologiesp. 1
Chapter 1 Ascending Undergroundp. 17
Chapter 2 A Skeleton Illuminated by Lightningp. 39
Chapter 3 The Edible Deadp. 56
Chapter 4 The Foreign Witnessp. 86
Chapter 5 Welcome to Weirdworldp. 113
Chapter 6 Vexed Ghostsp. 144
Chapter 7 Annihilationp. 170
Chapter 8 Beyond the Pavlov Hillsp. 193
Chapter 9 An Unexpected Vampirep. 223
Chapter 10 The Singing Bonep. 249
Conclusion: Visceral Insulationp. 273
Notesp. 289
Bibliographyp. 317
Indexp. 345