4.8 Sex Incidence

This section describes the incidence of solely male burial on a site in a period (101), solely female burial (102), incidence of male and female burial occurring on a site in the same period but not necessarily buried together (103), and reflects where the sex of human remains was not described, was unknown or could not be determined (104).

Any meaning derived from the resultant figures in this particular case must be very uncertain, and affords the opportunity to make a comment that may apply to some other analyses of individual characteristics of location, monument or disposal. The periods delimited in the research are long, even the shortest (100bc-AD43) being 140 years or so and the longest (2500-14/1300bc) being perhaps 1200 calendrical years. The shortest period therefore spans 5 generations or more at 25 years a generation, and the longest perhaps 60 generations at a slightly lower figure of 20 years for an earlier period when life expectancy might have been less. The successive depositions of male only, female only or mixed sex burials on a site may have occurred many generations apart except in the obvious cases of the detectable single burial event. A later generation using a site again may have forgotten what went before if there had been any deliberate sexual separation or even burial grouping (see the next section) originally intended for a disposal site.

Perhaps a second point to make is an echo of the comment often passed about archaeological site distribution maps, telling more about where archaeologists have looked or excavated than anything else: evidence for sexed archaeological remains may say more about the distribution of pathologists interested in archaeology at the time, or which sites particularly in the 19th century and early in the 20th were excavated by archaeologists with a knowledge of bones or good medical contacts. Modern excavations are less susceptible to these faults, but of course they are a small minority of those in the Gazetteer. In any event the evidence of sex has been recorded as given in reports, where it is given in the expectation that even a small piece of uncertain evidence may prove to have a value.

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 196-210. The section treats sex incidence starting from the broadest picture for the whole geographical area over the whole period.

Overall patterns 3500bc-AD43

The summary picture

Overall, Table 209 shows that sites with just male burial have highest incidence at 13% followed by sole female at 10% and mixed at 8%. The south east area has higher than average incidence and the south west lower, and in the latter case mixed burials take second place ahead of sole female burial. None of the percentages are high since recording of sex has been indifferent, as has already been pointed out. Table 210 indicates that the proportionate share of sole female burials is higher in the south east (35% against 25% of sites) and lower in the south west (19% against 28% of sites). Otherwise the proportions fairly closely follow the site incidence overall between the areas.

The period pictures

Table 206 shows the evidence through the five periods. 3500-2500bc has most incidence of mixed burials of sexes at 24%, with a steep drop in the incidence of this characteristic in the next two periods to 6% and 2%. This may bear a relation to the disposal method incidence described in176, where cremation grows in use between 2500-8/700bc. The appearance of more incidences of mixed burial over 8/700bc-AD43 (16-13%) also coincides with the increase then in the use of inhumation. Sole male burial appears to be more prevalent in the two earlier periods 3500-14/1300bc (17% and 15% incidence) before settling at the average for the characteristic over 8/700bc-AD43, and sole female burial is similarly higher in the last two periods covering 8/700bc-AD43 at 18-14%, having been at the average over 3500-14/1300bc. Whether the numbers on which these percentages are based (Table 205 refers) allow any significance to be attributed is hard to say at this point.

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