4.7 Disposal Method

The analysis of disposal method covers a number of characteristics, and notes evidence for the incidence rather than counts incidences of a characteristic on a site. The codes used for disposal method are:

Some difficulties exist in coding certain aspects of disposal method with confidence. For example, rarely do reports, especially the older records, confirm that cremations represent a whole body or bodies, and descriptions of inhumation burials do not always make the same point clear. It is often easier in the case of inhumation to make a reasonable assumption of completeness of a body, and sometimes the quantity of cremated material described allows a similar but riskier judgement to be made.

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 166-180. The section treats disposal method incidence starting from the broadest picture for the whole geographical area over the whole period, and moves from that to individual areas.

Overall patterns 3500bc-AD43

The summary picture

Exactly half the sites have cremation disposal as the only method (Table 179), 36% of sites have inhumation as the sole method, and 13% have both inhumation and cremation on the site in the same period. The areas differ slightly in this overall picture, the south west with significantly more than the average proportion of sole cremation sites (58%), and a below average proportion of mixed mode disposal sites. The south east's below average percentage of cremation only sites (46%) is countered by its significantly higher than average 43% for inhumation only sites. The south appears to have rather more sites which provide evidence for both modes of disposal in a period, 17% against the average of 13%. Evidence for sites with excarnation evidence is uniformly slight overall at 2-4% of sites.

Half the sites do not carry clear evidence for whether bodies were disposed of as parts or whole, and the variations between areas mirror the cremation only site figures for the three areas, which may be no coincidence as cremations are often incompletely described. Part body deposition is of lower incidence at 12% than whole body deposition at 23%, and mixed deposits on sites within a period fall in between at 16%. There are slight variations for the whole timespan between the areas, the largest being in the south where part body deposition appears low at 8%, in the south east where part body deposition is high at 17%, and in the south west where whole body deposits are lower at 19% than the other two areas at 23-24% overall.

Table 180, which traces the incidence of a disposal type through the areas for the whole timespan 3500bc-AD43, reflects the patterns described above.

The period pictures

The analysis of the broad picture above by individual period shows some marked differences from one period to another. Table 176 shows a 'rise-fall-rise' pattern for sites with solely cremation as the disposal rite, and a mirror image 'fall-rise-fall' pattern for inhumation only sites. Cremation only incidence rises from a low 11% in 3500-2500bc to 56% in 2500-14/1300bc and thence to a peak 80% incidence in 14/1300-8/700bc. It then reverts to its early low incidence in 8/700-100bc at 13% but rises again to 31% in the final period 100bc-AD43. Inhumation only starts high at 72% site incidence, falling sharply to 27% and 12% over the two periods covering 2500-8/700bc, rises very steeply in 8/700-100bc to 83% and falls again but still to a substantial level of 64% in 100bc-AD43.

Over the five periods, Table 176 shows sites with both cremation and inhumations maintaining the same 17% incidence through 3500-2500bc and 2500-14/1300bc, but then falling in 8/700-100bc by half to 8%, and again by half to 4-5% over the final two periods. The table also exposes the variation underlying the overall 3% for excarnation sites: these appear as 17% of sites in 3500-2500bc, but in the remaining periods are uniformly uncommon at 1-3%.

Evidence for disposal of whole or part bodies varies through the five periods. Sites with disposals offering no evidence follow the same incidence levels and pattern as that for cremations just described, earlier rises being followed by a fall in 8/700-100bc and then a recovery. Otherwise it is hard to determine many significant patterns. Whole body disposal incidence falls over 3500-8/700bc (from 29-22-7%) then rises again to 36% and 40% over 8/700bc-AD43. Mixed whole and part disposal starts high in 3500-2500bc at 36%, but falls steeply to 15% in 2500-14/1300bc and then to 4% in 14/1300-8/700bc, the period which has the highest proportion of sites without evidence at 73%. The characteristic reappears on 22% of sites in 8/700-100bc, and is maintained at 18% incidence in 100bc-AD43. Part body only sites for each period lie for the most part on or around the average of 12% incidence, except in 8/700-100bc where the rate is 31%, a notable variation.

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