4.11 Personal Grave Goods

The analytical focus of personal grave goods will also need to be associated with animal associations and domestic refuse associations. It concentrates, as it implies, on the grave goods associated with disposals which might reasonably be assumed to have a very personal connection with the dead person. These goods will range from items which, in life, the dead person might have used in eating or drinking (like a Beaker, a bowl, spoon or scoop), through a spectrum of ordinary human activity including play (like a toy or a game), work (like arrow heads for hunting, weaving combs for craft), and personal adornment (like jewellery, make-up and head-dresses). They also include a category of goods which both the dead person and perhaps the living survivors might have set value upon because of their excellence or rarity: the scarce materials from which they were made, the skill shown in their crafting, or their unusual, extravagant or exotic nature. Excellence is therefore noted as a quality associated sometimes with items categorised otherwise. Finally, an object appears occasionally to have been deposited as a grave good which might have been a favourite small object belonging to the dead person, found or given, and commonly an unusual natural object like a fossil or a pretty stone - the objet trouvée.

These characteristics are coded thus: 129 personal utensil or toy, 121 personal decorative item, 122 personal craft item, 123 excellence apparent in an item and 130 objet trouvée. Many deposits have no grave goods (128), and occasionally a deposit is accompanied by a token item - 124 (perhaps a sherd, a single arrowhead laid in a particular spot, or a pebble). In this last case it is sometimes quite hard to decide whether a token item is intended, unless the object deposited has a definite association with the burial and can be seen to be deliberately placed. Even after many sites have been examined, evidence for identification is not always secure.

The three areas of south west, south and south east have been examined for all five periods from 3500bc-AD43, and the relevant results are set out in Tables 286-300. The section treats personal grave goods characteristics starting from the broadest picture for the whole geographical area over the whole period.

Overall patterns 3500bc-AD43

The summary picture

A significant proportion of sites (Table 299) had disposals unaccompanied by any personal grave goods (64%) over the whole timespan. Personal utensils were the most common at 24% site incidence, followed by an equal incidence at 14% of personal decor items, items of excellence and personal craft or trade items. Tokenism is low at 8% and objets trouvées infrequent at 3%. The three areas vary only slightly around these averages, Table 300 confirming this.

Table 296 indicates that, underlying the overall average of 64% of sites with disposals unaccompanied by personal grave goods, a pattern exists which shows a low start to unaccompanied incidence in 3500-2500bc at 56%, then rising to 61% in 2500-14/1300bc, and a peak of 87% in 14/1300-8/700bc. It then falls to 75% in 8/700-100bc and again to 49% in 100bc-AD43. The reduction in incidence of personal grave goods over 2500-8/700bc may significantly coincide with the increase of cremation over those years, but this needs examining. The numerical base in this case is stronger (Table 295).

The period pictures

Taking the characteristics individually, it is evident from Table 296 that again the average for the whole belies the patterns over the five periods. The frequency of incidence of personal utensils as grave goods starts just below the average at 23% in 3500-2500bc, and increases to 30% in 2500-14/1300bc. These kind of goods then occur much less frequently over 14/1300-100bc (8-12%), before reappearing strongly at 42% incidence in 100bc-AD43. Goods for personal adornment are relatively infrequent in incidence in 3500-2500bc, move to just above average in 2500-14/1300bc, fall again to infrequency in 14/1300-8/700bc before reappearing close to average at 13% in 8/700-100bc and then having high incidence at 29% in 100bc-AD43. This closely mirrors the rise-fall-rise incidence of personal utensils.

Indeed the general pattern of incidence over the five periods is replicated for each personal grave good type, with the periods 2500-14/1300bc and 100bc-AD43 providing the high points.

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