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A grave field is a prehistoric grave site, although some people use the term “grave field” to refer to burial sites as recent as the sixth century CE. Grave fields come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, and sizes, although most lack external markers, either because graves were left unmarked by preference, or because the markers have been removed or worn away with time. Archaeologists enjoy looking at grave fields because they can provide reams of information about the cultures they are associated with, since the way that people handle their dead is often a very important part of their culture.
The earliest grave fields were burials of only a handful of people, suggesting that people maintained small burial areas on their farms or around their homes for family members. Individual graves of high-ranking members of society have also been discovered, suggesting that meticulous burial was considered especially important to people of value in many early human societies. Over time, the grave field began to evolve, and grave fields began to be located away from populated areas, and dedicated to the use of the community as a whole.
The most simple sort of grave field is simply a row field, in which people are buried side by side. Grave fields may also contain buried urns of ashes, burial mounds, and shaft tombs. With centuries of time, a grave field can become difficult to find; excavations have to be very careful, and a variety of archaeological technology may be used to identify and explore grave fields.
The character of graves has changed radically over the centuries, and sometimes sudden changes in the way the dead are handled can be used to track cultural changes. For example, at one time it was common to bury people with an assortment of grave goods for use in the afterlife, but this custom faded out in many cultures, often around the time of Christianization. The dead have also been buried in a variety of wrappings and containers from shrouds to sarcophagi, which can sometimes provide clues about when someone was buried and what his or her social rank was.
A typical grave field is indistinguishable to the untrained eye, since it lacks markers. Some grave fields have become famous historic sites of interest, attracting tourists who wish to explore the area, while others are left largely undisturbed except by curious archaeologists. Objects removed from grave fields are often on display at museums, for people who want a glimpse of the past.