4.6 Rite Incidence

The analysis of rite incidence at this level is simple, indicating whether on a site the disposal process appears to be single phase and happened in one event, multiple phase and happening as two or more events (for example excarnation followed by burial), and whether there appears to have been any form of ritual activity on the site, at the time of disposal, or before or since, and connected with disposal.

A site may have evidence for both single and multiple phase rites for the same period. To interpret the evidence is a subjective process, and ritual disposal processes probably existed then that do not survive in the evidence now. Excavators also vary in the detail of their descriptions of site data and in their interpretative inclinations, a few giving much detail and even totally reconstructing ritual and disposal processes in their reports, more noting less obviously explicable site features, but the majority being sparing with both detail and interpretation. Here a fairly cautious approach has been taken in use of the Codes - 051 (single phase rite) and 052 (multiple phase) so that a multiple phase rite will only be inferred if there is reasonably convincing evidence. This may have resulted in under-representation of the multiple phase rite, especially in 3500-2500bc.

With ritual activity, the principle behind using 053 has been to record any apparent physical or implied behavioural feature which requires explanation in connection with the monument or the disposal itself.

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 136-150. The section treats rite incidence starting from the broadest picture for the whole geographical area over the whole period.

Overall patterns 3500bc-AD43

The summary picture

Over the whole period under review Table 149 indicates that the single phase rite dominates with 98% of sites providing examples, against 5% for multiple phase rites. The three areas are broadly the same, the south west having marginally fewer single phase instances and the south marginally more multiple phase examples. The phase occurrences in Table 150 broadly follow the site occurrences by area. Evidence for ritual shows a similarly even distribution, 22% of sites overall with such evidence, slightly more in the south west and slightly less in the south area. These results are interesting for their even ratios, given the numerical imbalances of sites across the areas seen in Table 148.

The period pictures

Looking at Table 146 to see differences that might appear among the five periods across the combined geographical area of SW/S/SE, it is clear that 3500-2500bc offers some variations of note. Single phase disposal is high at 87% incidence on sites of the period (later periods range from 98-99%), but multiple phase disposal at 26% incidence far outstrips later periods which range from 2-4%. There is also an important difference in ritual activity incidence over time. The 'flat' picture given in Table 149 when it is given the dimension of period data in Table 146 shows that ritual activity appears on 50% of sites in 3500-2500bc, dropping to 22% in 2500-14/1300bc, and continuing to decline through the series of 17-17-12% incidence over the three periods covering 14/1300bc-AD43. There seems a reasonably solid numerical base to make this feature interesting and worth more study.

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