Rita Peyroteo Stjerna


Archaeologist dealing with ancient death ways.

DEATH IN THE MESOLITHIC is my PhD project, in full swing since April 2011.

I am studying the human burials recovered from the archaeological excavations from the 19th century up to the late 1960s, from the archaeological sites located by the shores of the old estuaries of both Tagus and Sado rivers.

These sites are located in Portugal and are characterized by the intentional accumulation of aquatic animals, terrestrial fauna and stone artefacts. This type of site is known as shell midden after its most visible feature, the sea shells.

In the south-west Atlantic coast of Europe, where is now Portugal, the rise of the sea levels during the Atlantic climatic optimum (c.7500 BP-5500 BP) result in the formation of large estuaries. The typical costal sites known for the Pre-boreal and Boreal (c.10000 BP-7500 BP) are now left to interior regions, by these new ecosystems.Today, far from the sight and influence of marine waters, these shell middens can be very large archaeological sites, many of them with well preserved human remains.

In the Tagus valley, six middens have human burials, in a total of c.300 individuals. In the Sado valley, at least six sites have human remains, with c.100 depositions. This concentration of ancient human burials is unique in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the largest and oldest concentrations known in Europe.

This new form of settlement is followed by a different approach to death. New born babies, children, young adults, men and women were carefully buried in these places. These burials embody a new attitude towards death - key data in the debate on the origins of cemeteries and its structural role in human societies.

My research is focused on the mortuary practices of the last hunter-gatherers of Europe and aims to contribute to interdisciplinary studies on Death and Society.

Supervisor and co-advisors:

•Kjel Knutsson, Uppsala University, kjel.knutsson@arkeologi.uu.se;

•Liv Nilsson Stutz, Emory University, lstutz@emory.edu;

•Mariana Diniz, University of Lisbon, m.diniz@fl.ul.pt

Key words of my research:
Late Mesolithic
Mortuary practices
Ritual Theory
Shell midden
Tagus (PT Tejo) Valley, Portugal
Sado Valley, Portugal

Other activities:

I am also the co-organizer of the annual meeting in Uppsala: Ancient Death Ways

(1st: March 2012; 2nd: May 2013)

International Projects I am actively involved with:

•Nordic Blade Technology Network
Coord. Kjel Knutsson

•From shell middens to crop fields: The transition to the Neolithic in the coastal regions of SW Europe-ATLANTMIDDENS

U. Cantabria, Spain – Coord. Pablo Arias


U. Lisbon, Portugal/U. Cantabria, Spain– Coord. Mariana Diniz and Pablo Arias



Other sites:


Last update: April 2013