5.2 The North cluster

The North cluster (Figure 7) is comprised of 36 burials, seven of which have no elements of dress or ornament among their grave goods (burials 103, 136, 143, 162, 164, 375, and 385). Of these seven, five are dated to Phase IIA and cremation burials 162 and 164 are identified as possible burials of Phase IIB (Bietti Sestieri 1992a, 585, 589).

Figure 7
Figure 7: Osteria dell'Osa cemetery, the North cluster, showing burials by sub-phase and sex (plan excludes burials with no surviving clothing or ornament in their grave goods) (L. Cougle, digitised in ArcMap after Bietti Sestieri 1992b, Fig. 7.1a)

Of the 29 included burials with dress elements, only two date to Phase IIB: adult male burials 151 and 134. The North cluster contains ten burials from late Phase IIA, so the latest two burials may not, in fact, represent a significant chronological break. They are, however, two of the latest burials in the western part of the cemetery, and can be considered intrusive in light of the general movement towards the east, and the fact that the majority of their contemporaries are buried there.

Both of these later burials have unusual features that suggest they contain individuals with uncommon social identities. Burial 151 is characterised by a higher than average number of pots among his grave goods - six, compared to an average of 3.45 in Phase IIB male burials (see Table 9). Interestingly, he has two bowls, which are rare in male burials, being present in only 14 per cent. The burial also contains two amphorae - it is one of the 28 per cent of male Phase IIB burials with amphorae, and one of only two with more than one amphora. However, as the scope of this analysis does not extend beyond personal ornament to look at ceramics in any depth, the full significance of this patterning cannot be established here. On a basic level, if the notion that material wealth corresponds to social status is accepted (see Graziadio 1991, 412; O'Shea 1981, 42, table 3.3), it would be reasonable to conclude that this was a privileged individual. This individual's anachronistic interment in the eastern section of the cemetery suggests distinction, rather than differential treatment to effect social exclusion. If this individual was somehow ostracised, it would be reasonable to expect the provision of fewer, or otherwise different, grave goods. The high number of ceramic grave goods excludes this possibility.

Table 9: Number of pots per burial

 Phase IIAPhase IIBPhase II (Unspecified)
 MinMax Mean Mode Min Max Mean Mode Min Max Mean Mode
Mature Female 0 10 4.87 5 0 12 3.52 3 0 4 1.96 0
Mature Male 0 9 4.89 3 1 7 3.45 3 0 4 1.88 2
Subadult 0 8 3.91 4 1 5 3.10 3 0 3 1.75 3

There is nothing in the ceramic corredo of burial 134 that distinguishes it from contemporary male burials. However, the presence of three suspension rings is atypical in male burials (see Table 6) and their positioning around the head of the deceased is highly unusual. Becker and Salvadei (1992, 131) note difficulties encountered in determining the sex of this individual from the skeletal remains and changed their assessment more than once before settling on a male identification. This determination is supported by a 'male' type serpentine fibula in the corredo, but is cast into doubt by the female characteristics of a gracile skeleton and a broad sciatic notch. Becker and Salvadei argue that these gracile characteristics are shared by other males in the Osteria dell'Osa population, namely burials 107 (in the North cluster, indicated on Figure 7) and 110 (in the South cluster, indicated on Figure 6). There is nothing in the corredo of burial 107 to challenge the masculine biological assessment, but burial 110 has a single small ring, found in association with a serpentine fibula. This is a small fused ring, rather than the flatter, discoid type of suspension ring more commonly found in burials of mature females (see Table 7). Interestingly, the Phase IIB burial 110 (in the South cluster) is also in an anomalous position, not far from 134 in the North cluster, surrounded on all sides by burials of Phase IIA (Figure 6).

On the basis of burials 134 and 110 possessing gracile morphology, 'female' grave goods, and a position in the cemetery that is largely isolated from their contemporaries, it is possible to suggest these individuals had unusual social identities. The presence of items usually associated in this context with a feminine appearance might imply different gender identities. Such identities, however, were not necessarily stigmatising: burial 134 is positioned alongside the central group of male cremations of the North cluster, including 138 which is identified by Bietti Sestieri (1992b, 158) as an important burial.

This brief examination of a single cluster demonstrates how a perspective gained through spatial presentation of data can help us interpret the information gathered from traditional database analyses. In the latter, the physical proximity of burials to their contemporaries in neighbouring clusters (see Figure 6) is less obvious than any intra-cluster relationships, but becomes clear when database records are linked to a site plan. The facility to highlight spatial proximity of burials between which no obvious relationship exists in the catalogue data provides a valuable analytical perspective. This could otherwise only be gained through painstaking manual plotting of graves on the site plan.

The following sections examine a sample of particular ornament types, and explore what their spatial distribution reveals about social organisation within the cemetery.


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