2.6 Three brief case studies

Gazetteer Site 22 Hazleton II, Hazleton North (Saville/ 1980-84; 1990)

The excavations on this chambered long barrow were carried out between 1979-1988. The project was a major one, grant-funded almost entirely from central government, based officially in a large provincial museum, and officially supported throughout by a several professional organisations. It carried out its work largely through planned annual seasons of work. The final report demonstrates that, high excavation and recording skills apart, the team was supported on- or off-site by considerable expertise in a large number of disciplines: pottery, stone, flint, bone, fired clay, human skeletal material, non-human vertebrate remains, plant and molluscan remains, soils, geology, geophysical survey, and radiocarbon dating. The burials and monument construction also received special separate treatment. Each of these was given a full section, with description, scientific material analysis and specialist commentary.

The final synthesis and discussion were followed by a section putting the long barrow in its context, and a summary (Saville 1990, 240-71). In the synthesis the quarrying and labour requirements were discussed, and using mathematical parameters a range of time in person hours of labour was calculated for excavation and building. Further parameters were employed to calculate the elapsed building time, and then compared with other estimates. A conclusion was reached that a small farming community of some 25 people could have undertaken the work as well as its basic tasks. On sequence of monument construction, the data did not allow conclusions (ibid. 243) although a hypothesis was suggested, and a sequence tested. Similarly, the outward shape of the cairn cannot be reconstructed as the data admit a great variety of possibilities (ibid. 246). These were discussed, and a particular combination preferred and illustrated. A similar process was conducted on the chambered areas and entrances.

On the burial data, the bone remains and their deposition patterns were used to propose collective burial and the deliberate ordering of remains. The undisturbed (last) burials of the north entrance were used in a careful examination firstly of the mortuary processes to which they were subjected, and secondly to see whether those processes were applied generally in the tomb. Radiocarbon dating was used to relate the last inserts to the rest and it seems that the dates differed little. This enabled the construction of a hypothetical model for the mortuary process for the whole tomb (ibid. 251), and it was found 'not incontrovertible, but ... not inconsistent ...' in the face of the evidence. It was left as a serious suggestion but not regarded as the final word.

The bone data was judged not sufficient to support any demographic interpretation of the population or the social group involved, since the number of individuals was small (c. 41), buried over a period of c. 300 years. (This seems a harder judgement on the evidence than was Dacre and Ellison's at Kimpton.) It was compared in the specialist report with other workers' findings in the field. Kinship might have been suggested from some bone evidence but this was thought too frail although distinctive, the evidence appearing in both burial chambers.

The specialist reports, relying on scientific collection and laboratory analysis of material, paint a factual picture of the vegetation, climate, land use, sources of raw materials for pottery, techniques of bead manufacture, hut material construction, crop husbandry, domestic and wild animal populations, local small fauna, and the time of the monument's construction. These sections transform the data into information, producing an imaginable picture of the site and its environs as it was perhaps 5500 calendar years ago. The summary, by drawing upon the evidence of other similar sites in the Cotswold-Severn group, critically reviews Hazleton II mortuary activity and its interpretations under all the previous heads. It gives particular attention to topics such as demography and structured deposition, where there are controversial attitudes to methods and hence the value of results. The conclusions reached on demography are referred to above. The arguments of others on structured deposition are tested against the Hazleton II evidence and evaluated. Various aspects of method and of the practical conditions within the tomb (best known to the excavators) which could affect the possibility of structured deposition were examined, and the conclusion reached that no assertions may be made on the facts.

The excavator makes no attempt to take the hypothesis on mortuary ritual beyond the material evidence or simple justifiable deductions drawn from it.

Gazetteer Site 823 Kalis Corner, Kimpton (Dacre and Ellison 1981)

This was an extensive urn cemetery lying mainly beneath a flint platform, which was excavated in systematic grid fashion and mostly at weekends by members of Andover Archaeological Society between 1966-70. They gave their own time and were aided by two small grants for tools and machine costs. An area of 4600 square feet contained burials ranging from Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age. The report identified precise distributions of pottery types and flints, and detected similar platform morphologies between areas to draw a composite plan of the original flint mounds and the main platform areas. The chronological development of the cemetery could be reconstructed from section drawings and, using pottery typology, four phases could be interpreted for the main cemetery. Different styles of deposition were identified, and human bone collected and analysed in great detail for parts, sex, age, number of individuals and pathology.

The synthesis and discussion (Dacre and Ellison 1981, 189-98) began by positing that the Neolithic phase of the monument included a large standing sarsen stone, which formed the focus of activities using fire and deposition of Peterborough ware and Beaker pottery. Other standing stones were postulated on the morphology of holes found in Trenches I and III, but not in a simple standing circle. This suggested first evidence for a ritual focus amongst the headwaters of the Test, given the proximity of round barrows and ring ditches, and its place in the concentration of long barrows.

The flint platform and urn cemetery were analysed by stratigraphy and spatial patterning to show that they had grown organically starting from the sarsen focus. The urn positions (upright, inverted, on side, slab, and scatter) were analysed by phase, and distinct period preferences emerged with some fashions re-emerging. The occurrence of cremated bone with urns was similarly analysed with similar variations in phase behaviour (from 100% association to as low as 19%). Likewise, urn type analyses produced phase differences, and examination of urn type distribution across a wider geographical area produced evidence (stratigraphic and radiocarbon dating) to support the hypothesis that barrel urns were chronologically earlier. Vessel fabric types were identified, correlated with the phases, and related to types identified at other sites. These comparisons produced evidence to support hypotheses suggesting contacts between this area and others unsuspected in particular periods.

The human bone analysis suggested for the whole period no discrimination by age or sex, similar technical degrees of cremation, similar degrees of bone treatment by pulverization after cremation, and no imbalance of bone parts. To Dacre and Ellison, some of this suggested 'the efficient monitoring and possible controlled inheritance of a specific ritual technique. The use of the same area for cremation and burial over such a long period is indeed remarkable' (ibid. 197). Such an important observation would have been impossible without the processes to which the data had been subjected.

The paper finally had observations on the social and economic implications. The flint platform appeared to have been in use for a millennium, small as it was, with strong continuity of building and disposal processes. The size of the individual phase clusters and the age and sex distribution of the remains indicated that in each phase the site provided the burial place for a single social group: this interpretation was backed by reference to other work on burials of the period (Ellison 1980b). The implications of this tradition for theories of settlement patterns and land tenure were pointed to, as was the seemingly anomalous position of Kimpton compared to other sites in this respect. The conclusion noted the way in which the recovery and analysis of pottery had particularly contributed to solving many of the chronological and typological problems posed half a century earlier by the seminal survey of Preston and Hawkes (1933).

Gazetteer Site 1198 Danebury (Cunliffe 1984b; Cunliffe and Poole 1991; Cunliffe 1995)

The Iron Age hill fort of Danebury was excavated between 1969-89 as a planned piece of systematic research. In fact it had a wide range of objectives ranging from training new archaeologists and those in supporting sciences, to extending methods and techniques, to conducting a deliberately large-scale examination of an important site for the usual purposes of the discipline, and through to the social purpose of promoting both archaeology and the general concept of regional planning and management of archaeological sites in the local and national interest. It was officially funded, was carried out by regular annual seasons of excavation, was based in university departments and run by professional archaeologists.

The Danebury reports are filled to an even greater degree than those on Hazleton II with experts' reports and detailed analyses of the huge bank of data collected (Cunliffe 1984b; Cunliffe and Poole 1991). They epitomise the considerable shift in the discipline towards drawing upon very many sources of scientific expertise - the Hazleton example has demonstrated this sufficiently. This case study is confined to Chapters 5 and 6 of Cunliffe 1995 in which the excavator uses the data and evidence to consider the topics of behaviour and belief, and modelling society and characterising change.

Three-hundred depositions of human remains in pits within the hill fort were analysed into six categories from whole bodies to individual bone fragments, and three broad patterns of deposition distinguished. Various broad scenarios of explanation were considered, and each of the deposition categories were examined in detail, for example for position of the remains per se and within the pit, for condition on deposition, for frequency of occurrence, for factors such as age and sex, and for associations. From this examination models were built to posit systems by which human bones became incorporated in pits, and the possible sources of human burial. The over-arching assumption (referring to past evidence) was that pit burial was not the normative rite, but that other explanations must be found assuming that excarnation away from the site was the normative rite.

The model was contrasted with past views of Iron Age disposal rituals, but when viewed in the context of Wessex burial practice over time seemed to indicate continuity from Neolithic times alongside the rise and fall of cremation as the disposal mode in between. The pit fills were examined in detail for content and deposition patterns, fast and slow deposition cycles detected, and special burials identified where signs appeared to indicate such, e.g. the occurrence of recurring groups. The functions of the pits were suggested, their life cycles, and the meaning of certain stages of those cycles suggested from the data. The validity of the explanation (that the deposits were propitiatory to chthonic deities) was admitted as hard to test, the main argument being the fit of the evidence and corroborating anecdote on contemporary beliefs among Mediterranean peoples. Having discussed the pit deposition data, and suggested models based on it, the section ends with a general attempt to move to reconstruction of a belief system drawing on the broader evidence from the excavation, such as space use, the internal activities detected, the buildings focus within the site, the cyclical patterns of activity, the structural phases and the pit deposits. Allowance is made for the unknown and unknowable evidence from the hill fort and its environs. The writings of classical authors on broadly contemporary Iron Age societies are cautiously drawn upon to move from the Indo-European deities model (male/tribal/sky/warrior : female/territorial/earth/fertility) to what might have been the models of belief at Danebury. These are not categorically stated, but the Danebury evidence is shown to be capable of interpretation in a belief system context.

In modelling society and characterising change, Chapter 6 introduces the problems of fine dating, structural survival, social interpretation of surviving structures, the interpretation of evidence for activity, and the issue of continuous occupation. The evidence for various states of the occupants (complete families or not, resident all year or not, free or not and so forth) is brought out from activities within the fort: from crop, animal, wool and other production, storage capacities of granaries and pits, evidence of status, measures in use, shrines and defences. The results are used to distinguish between features of hill forts and settlement sites. Then using time and function spans, material evidence, structures, and activity volumes, a model is built of Danebury as a 'central place' with several major functions for the surrounding area on which comment is also made. Time span analyses of the data are then used to postulate 'trajectories of change' for Danebury, drawing into the model population change, soil conditions, ritual evidence, product changes, evidence from elsewhere of upland colonisation, and evidence for increased aggression in Iron Age communities.

The whole is explained by a timespan model over BC1400-10AD, divided into five stages. These stages are related to other settlement components in the region as cross-checking evidence in the construct. Within the explanation, the evidence from Danebury is inter-related with that from other sites, the strengths and weaknesses of the model indicated, as well as the particular dynamics of change in each stage. Where there are alternative explanations, the writer makes a deliberate choice and presents argument. Throughout, however, different possibilities are referred to and their rationale explained.


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