Shaft tomb

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A shaft tomb or shaft grave is a type of deep rectangular burial structure, similar in shape to the much shallower cist grave, containing a floor of pebbles, walls of rubble masonry, and a roof constructed of wooden planks.[1]


The practice of digging shaft tombs was a widespread phenomenon with prominent examples found in Mycenaean Greece; in Bronze Age China; and in Mesoamerican Western Mexico.[2]

Mycenaean Greece[edit]

Mycenaean shaft graves originated and evolved from rudimentary Middle Helladic cists, tumuli, and tholos tombs with features derived from Early Bronze Age traditions developed locally in mainland Bronze Age Greece.[3] Middle Helladic burials would ultimately serve as the basis for the royal Shaft Graves containing a variety of grave goods, which signified the elevation of a native Greek-speaking royal dynasty whose economic power depended on long-distance sea trade.[4]

The depth of Mycenaean shaft tombs would range from 1.0 m to 4.0 m with a mound constructed for each grave and stelae erected.[5] Archaeological examples include Grave Circle A and Grave Circle B.

Bronze Age China[edit]

Shaft graves were utilized by elites from the Shang Dynasty (or Yin Dynasty) during the Bronze Age of northern China.[2]

Mesoamerican Western Mexico[edit]

The Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition or shaft tomb culture refers to a set of interlocked cultural traits found in the present day western Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and, to a lesser extent, Colima to its south, roughly dating to the period between 300 BCE and 400 CE. An example is the La Campana archaeological site of the Capacha and subsequent cultures.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Pedley 2011, p. 86.
  2. ^ a b Kipfer 2000, "shaft grave", p. 508.
  3. ^ Dickinson 1999, pp. 103, 106–107.
  4. ^ Dickinson 1977, pp. 53, 107; Dickinson 1999, pp. 97–107; Anthony 2007, p. 48.
  5. ^ Komita 1982, pp. 59–60.


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