10.0 Future research areas

It may be useful for someone else to review this research's data, correct and refine the coding, review the methods (see below), and repeat some of the key studies within it to verify the initial findings. It would also be valuable for the focus of this research to be applied to another area of Britain which has a similarly well-explored archaeological heritage for the period. This study could take advantage of improvements in method and technique which must be possible, and would provide a major cross-check on the findings of this research for Southern Britain over 3500bc-AD43.

Research Outlines

Differences between the South West, the South and the South East Areas

Although the research suggests that underlying attitudes to disposal of the dead appear to be similar among the three Areas, there are apparent differences in the timing of change and in the variation of process. This needs deeper examination to establish whether these differences are genuine, and if so, what their cause might be. Propositions might be advanced focusing on movement of people, the infiltration of products via trade, and on Area or even more local differences in attitudes to disposal of the dead. More focused examination of site similarities and differences within Areas and at the Area boundaries might lead to testing of propositions on the locational and cultural origins of the tribes referred to in Classical authors as in existence in the 1st Century BC.

This might lead to development of models of population and cultural development and growth over 3500bc-AD43, and of linkages with mainland Europe and elsewhere.

A specific inter-Area Study

The Thames valley and the Wessex chalklands offer further scope for more detailed examination of their relative pace and style of development. These areas hold a greater quantity of discovered and recorded archaeological evidence than most. Not all of the Thames valley was covered by this study, and there is opportunity to take a more holistic view of two geographical regions with possible social and economic inter-relationships. Propositions might be advanced concerning their relative state economically, politically and socially in the different periods, and these tested by examining more detailed hypotheses drawn from a survey of evidence broader than that with which this work has been concerned.

Settlement ritual activity

All settlement sites, and not just those containing human bone, could be re-examined for the period 3500bc-AD43 in the light of this research, with the aim of discovering and re-interpreting evidence for ritual processes and explaining them in a broad belief framework. Propositions could be advanced which might use anthropological models of all rites of passage, and other rites, as their basis, and then the evidence at the settlement sites gathered and tested in ways similar to those used in this research. Other propositions might focus on detection of movement towards the building of structures with a deliberate religious focus, as part of the change in attitudes to conducting religious procedures.

Settlement sites of all scales would be covered. The work might lead to development of a woder theory of belief for 3500bc-AD43, tracing changes and attempting to explain them.

Comparative studies on mainland Europe for the period

This study has been insular. Research could take place to relate it to mortuary belief and practice in mainland Europe over the same timescale. This might take place at high level in a very general and geographically broad study of the whole of Europe, or might take one or two suitable areas on the mainland for comparative detailed study. Propositions might be advanced focusing on similarities of rite and belief, on the points of change in mainland Europe compared with Southern Britain, and on the causes of these changes.

The work might lead to better understanding of which elements of prehistoric culture in Europe are more subject to influence from far outside the local community, and how that influence is conveyed. It might permit models to be built of the flows of influence across Europe, identifying sources of change, as well as possibly identifying areas less influenced. The work might re-examine the acculturation models of the first half of the twentieth century from a different standpoint.

The nature of sites with single disposals, multiple similar disposals, and multiple varied disposals

The division of site types into these three categories was a device to enable certain comparisons to be made. It was something of an experiment, but the results show that there were significant differences between the site types in ritual and possibly status terms. Even so, the method of site typing was crude and pragmatic, and its risks and limitations were referred to at times in the text. Without deeper and more structured re-examination, there must remain some doubt that the division is a valid one. This provides the opportunity to investigate more sensitively what site types in burial ritual there might be. Propositions might be advanced to test further the apparently elite bias towards single and multiple varied disposal sites, and to similarly test the non-elite nature of the multiple similar sites. The three multiple disposal site types might be re-analyzed from another standpoint, for example location or inter-location, or monument characteristics, or using another specific disposal criterion. For instance, ritual activity might be used, and a new group with high ritual activity might be compared in other respects with the group without, thus cutting across the original boundaries.

The research objective would be to find less subjective criteria for site type distinction, and to see if a clearer basis for categorization or a hierarchy of site types existed, or whether indeed none is really appropriate.

Monuments, ritual and territory

There is much scope for a study which attempts to construct the relationship of the monuments to territory, using the detail of the monuments' siting and dating in relation to geomorphology and known settlement evidence. The study might start with propositions focusing on the nature of communities (their size, organization, and economy) in each of the five periods, and the possible territorial size of each. Other propositions might be constructed concerning local monument designs and local ritual patterns of supposed sub-territories, and about anticipated patterns of monument re-use.

The research objective would be to build territorial models for the five periods over 3500bc-AD43, using a combination of archaeological and geomorphological evidence, demonstrating growth, reduction and change of territorial boundaries in the period. Part of the results should be predictive models of where settlements are likely to lie undiscovered.

Monument design and meaning

The detailed design of burial monuments is highly varied and various categories have been identified, but more work is needed to systematically unravel the meaning behind the design. Part of monument design purpose will be pragmatic, but there is more to design when it goes beyond the unambiguously functional. The construction processes, rebuilding and redesign processes, and how mortuary activity centring on the monument was carried out could be analyzed in the context of propositions. These might suggest that there was a tradition throughout prehistory which allowed a wide variety of means of expression using the underlying symbols of the mortuary process; and also might that the most powerful symbols and concepts from anthropological studies of mortuary process and ritual could be detected in the prehistoric monuments of Southern Britain.

The research aim would be to explain the design variations (for example of the barrow types) in the context of the symbolism of transition, place, space, structure and shape in the mortuary context. The study might also explore why shapes and designs changed through time. Anthropological parallels might be sought for.

Intensive site study to reconstruct ritual

There is a good deal of evidence that permits imaginative reconstruction of the actual mortuary process, in generalized models for each of the five periods. There might be alternative models, or variations in each period. These models might be constructed against a wider ritual background of the seasonal year, and possibly related to activity at the great communal monuments in periods when those existed, and at later locational focuses for prehistoric communities. The research would need to take account of the full detail of mortuary process for the dead, the kin, society and ancestors. Sites with sufficient detail recorded might be selected from the Gazetteer, and composites built. Considerable freedom in interpretation and reconstruction might be allowed, provided that only archaeological evidence that exists is used and that reconstruction of acts and frameworks can be justified by appropriate anthropological reference.

The research aim would be to devise a speculative but arguable model of process both at the micro-level and macro-level, with the objective of stimulating greater awareness of the potential for interpretation of simple evidence, and of opening minds to the possibilities of very complex behaviour and thinking among the prehistoric Southern Britons. The product would also provide a vivid (if imagined) picture of what part of life at these different times might have been like.

Male/female, old/young distinctions in mortuary process

This research has found only slight distinctions made between male and female in the mortuary process. Since the making of such distinctions is not unusual, it is possible that other clues have been missed. Further work is needed on sexed disposals to test whether they have been treated in specially different ways when criteria other than grave goods are applied. Propositions might be advanced and tested on such factors as orientation, location in the monument, body disposition, and container.

The research has found that age at death did make a difference in how the disposal was likely to be carried out. The findings were based on a fairly high level examination of the evidence, and deeper research is needed to confirm that the pattern so far suggested holds true. All disposals with an age or age-range attributed could be examined for their attributes, and tests for correlations made against the background of propositions based on this research.

Method Refinement

The research method used could be refined in these ways:


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