“Death Stands Ready at the Door”: The Dangers of Maritime Life

David J. Stewart

in The Sea Their Graves

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780813037349
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780813041575 | DOI:
“Death Stands Ready at the Door”: The Dangers of Maritime Life

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  • History and Theory of Archaeology


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Seafaring is one of the deadliest occupations that humans have ever pursued. Over the centuries, millions of sailors have been killed by shipwrecks, disease, accidents, and war. The constant threat of death had a significant impact on maritime group culture and was expressed in its mortuary traditions. This chapter discusses the themes of death commonly found on maritime memorials and explores the meanings that these motifs held in maritime culture. The “humans versus nature” theme, for example, is a particularly prominent one on maritime memorials. This actuality provides support for Malinowski's anxiety-ritual theory, which posits that humans develop magic rituals to ensure the safe completion of dangerous tasks.

Keywords: anxiety-ritual theory; culture; nature; death at sea; shipwrecks; storms; worldview

Chapter.  11660 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History and Theory of Archaeology

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