4.5 Body Orientation

For each site, the record of body orientation indicates whether an example of a particular orientation exists rather than the number of such orientations there. A more detailed analysis of individual depositions will provide a weighting, and a more reliable indication of preferences. However, as will be seen below, the quantity of evidence surviving for body orientation is not great, and similar to that for monument orientation. Body orientation here refers to the assumed direction the head of the body either was placed or found. It uses the top of the head to point the direction, rather than the direction towards which the head faced. It is therefore assumed that the body is used with the head as the pointer, rather than the direction of the eyes. If the head is detached or missing, and the body remains in sufficient shape to indicate orientation, then the body will be used to record the characteristic. Excavators' judgements are always used when given, or any plans if they exist when the text omits detailed reference. Sometimes excavation reports use terms like 'facing W' and these are reinterpreted where the other associated data about a deposition (for example 'lying on the left side') allows orientation under the present definition to be established.

The codes for body orientation are 071 for NW-NE, 072 NE-SE, 073 SE-SW and 074 for SW-NW. The rationale for these quadrants has been discussed in another section.

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 106-120. The section treats body orientation starting from the broadest picture for the whole geographical area over the whole period.

Overall patterns 3500bc-AD43

The summary picture

Of 1754 sites, 85% of sites either have no particular body orientation or none recorded (Table 119 refers). This compares with 84% for unknown or no discernible monument orientation, but the reasons probably lie in incomplete recording of complete inhumation burials on many sites, incomplete inhumations providing no evidence, and cremation burials holding no evidence. The similarity may hold no special significance.

Among the areas, the south provides more instances of body orientation overall at 20% of sites, nearly twice as many as each of the other areas. All three areas share a clear preference for NW-NE and NE-SE orientation in that order, and there is a common pattern over the whole period for the areas to show diminishing preference for the others in clockwise cardinal point order.

The period pictures

Table 116 shows for the five individual periods the incidence of body orientations, taking all areas together. This discloses that the NE-SE body orientation was very clearly preferred in 3500-2500bc, identifiable on 12% of sites, followed by NW-NE on 5%. The NW-NE is then favoured in 2500-14/1300bc, as it is in the periods covering 8/700bc-AD43. In all these three periods, the other quadrants follow in clockwise cardinal point order of preference. A difference exists in 14/1300-8/700bc where the evidence is scanty (only 3% of sites provide evidence), and there is no significant preference for any one orientation.

Select the Detail button for a break-down by area


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s)
University of York legal statements | Terms and Conditions | File last updated: Wed Nov 7 2001