5.3 2500-14/1300bc: The Neolithic - Bronze Age Interface

Devon Dorset Somerset Wiltshire Hampshire Cornwall Scilly Hampshire Sussex Surrey Kent Berkshire Gloucestershire Gwent Oxfordshire Buckinghamshire Bedfordshire Powys Middlesex West South

Distribution of sites from Neolithic-Bronze Age
Figure 5.3-1: Distribution of sites from Neolithic-Bronze Age. Select map to retrieve sites (by county).

This period is the best represented by sites, with 1023 in all recorded with disposals, 322 in the south west, 472 in the south and 229 in the south east. There are 28 with no burials but which are recorded in the Gazetteer as having aspects of interest to this research.

The period sees an even heavier bias in all areas towards the open disposal location (98-99%), with the open structured location totally dominant (Tables 4, 5 & 6). The unstructured open location has some representation in the south west (11%) and the south east (9%). Settlement locations for disposals are rare (0-2% incidence) everywhere.

Monument characteristics show each of the Areas having much in common in 2500-14/1300bc, as is seen in Tables 34, 35 & 36. They all heavily favour one period sites (89-92% incidence), single design sites (94-96%), and visible sites (but here the south east maintains its lower incidence from the last period at 73% compared with the south west and south at 84% and 93% respectively - indeed the incidence virtually repeats that of 3500-2500bc). Completion processes are totally absent in the south east and south in this period, and have dropped to 2% incidence in the south west. As in 3500-2500bc, the use of special materials is rare at 1-2% incidence, half of the previous rate.

Monument orientation and body orientation (Tables 64, 65 & 66 and Tables 94, 95 & 96) go in tandem as in the last period. However, the proportion of monuments that have no identifiable orientations is much higher in 2500-14/1300bc. Also, the NW-NE quadrant has become the most popular overall (although for monuments the south peoples still marginally favoured NE-SE), and the remaining quadrants are favoured in broadly clockwise order. The shift is thought provoking, and also the continuing tendency to favour the remaining quadrants in order.

Turning to rite incidence in 2500-14/1300bc (Tables 124, 125 & 126), there appears to be a remarkable evenness among the areas. Single phase rites are totally dominant at 97-99% incidence, and the multiple phase rite is unusual at 4-6%. Even in the evidence for ritual activity, the three areas fall inside a close 22-24% incidence range. This is perhaps the more interesting because of the large numerical base for these percentages.

There is no evenness, however, in the research results for disposal methods for the period (Tables 154, 155 & 156). The south west peoples have a very high incidence of cremation only sites (75%), and the south (46%) and the south east (48%) also have cremation only sites as their largest category. For all three areas, inhumation only sites second most frequent in incidence, but the south east peoples favoured them more than the south and south west (38-29-18%). The site with both cremation and inhumation was uncommon in incidence in the south west at 7%, but a quarter of the south area sites used both methods, the south east falling in between the two. The south west and the south east therefore tended to favour one or the other on a site, the south area being more evenly representative. Excarnation incidence appears slight on the evidence from all areas, and there maybe some link with the much reduced incidence in this period of mortuary houses. There is some diversity in the record for part and whole body disposals, possibly a result of the difference in the disposal method favoured: the south west has lower whole body incidence than the south and south east (which were fairly even at 25-28% incidence), but the highest part body incidence in the low range of 5-15%.

Incidence of sex (Tables 184, 185 & 186) suggests that all areas had more sites with sole male burials (11-20%) than sites with sole female burials (7-13%), which in turn were more frequent in incidence than sites with both sexes buried on them (3-7%). The incidence of all of these was not high, however, and the south east was proportionately the best provider of evidence. The evidence for burial groups (Tables 214, 215 & 216) does not appear to bear much relationship to that for sex, adults and children being as commonly buried together as adults alone, except in the south west where the latter condition was more prevalent. In this period also, sites with child burials alone were unusual. The evidence surviving is not great, and there are no very notable area differences.

For all areas, sites with single disposals are in the majority which is a change from the pattern of the previous period. The south west leads on 61% incidence, the south east is on 55% and the south at 49%. Tables 364, 365 & 366 on single and multiple disposal modes then show the multiple varied disposal as next most common in all areas, the south leading the south east and the south west (41-33-23%). For all areas the multiple similar disposal site is least common, making up the balance. It is notable that a shift is occurring from the previous period from the multiple disposal to the single, and that the south west is foremost in this, as it is in the use of the cremation rite. Why this might be needs exploration.

The evidence for age incidence in 2500-14/1300bc set out in Tables 244, 245 & 246 shows that, added to the other uncertainties of the data, the 'age unknown' category is high for all areas. There appears to be a higher incidence of 2-17 and 18-24 year old burials in the south and south east than in the south west, but the 0-1 age range is overall much less represented in this period than previously, as is the range 2-17 group. It is hard to assess what these particular figures actually mean: they might, for instance, suggest that survival rates for the young were improving in this period, although they are still not definitive. They would be affected by factors such as, for example, cremation more completely destroying the evidence than for adults.

Items of personal grave goods in 2500-14/1300bc (Tables 274, 275 & 276) show a significant rise in incidence compared with the last period, but between areas the patterns are fairly close overall. All have personal utensils as the most popular incidence of deposit (the south and south east at 33% and 31% being ahead of the south west at 24%), followed by personal craft items, where again the south west follows behind the south and south east (14-19-20%). In the second equal most popular incidence, goods of excellence, all areas are well represented by incidences in the range 16-19%. This is a significant increase for this characteristic on the previous period, where excellence was sparsely represented save in the south east. This area was overtaken by the others in 2500-14/1300bc in the incidence of such deposits on sites, but still increased its rate. Next in overall order of incidence were items of personal decor, and the south area was well in front of the south west and south east at 18% against 12-11%. Indeed the south area maintained the strongest incidence overall of these first four preferred types of deposit. Token deposits appear to increase in 2500-14/1300bc, the south east area maintaining about the same level as in 3500-2500bc, the others doubling their rate of incidence, but the range is still lowish at 9-12%. Overall 61% of sites contained burials with no personal grave goods, a little higher than 3500-2500bc, the south east and south again being higher (62%) than the south west (57%). The period nonetheless gives a strong impression of a more uniform inclination to deposit grave goods more extensively (that is, when they were deposited), and to make more use of each category - even the objets trouvees increases their tiny percentage incidence in 2500-14/1300bc.

Tables 304, 305 & 306 cover the deposit of animal parts in the period 2500-14/1300bc. The period is notable for the uniformity of pattern for each area (8-10% incidence of part deposits, virtually no whole animals, and no articulated parts at all), and for the sharp drop from the levels of 3500-2500bc. There is an even sharper fall in the deposit of domestic refuse in monuments and with disposals in this period (Tables 334, 335 & 336). Again, the areas all have the same pattern, ranging in monument incidence from 7-9%, and disposal incidence from 2-3%. Whether there is a genuine link is uncertain, but the animal and domestic refuse deposits both follow a similar trend in dropping from quite high levels in 3500-2500bc to the quite low levels in this period, and across all areas.

Finally, to physical burial containers (Tables 394, 395 & 396). Overall, mounds and pits are of roughly equal incidence (69% and 66%) in 2500-14/1300bc, and urns are introduced as the third most common burial container overall at 34%. The first urnfields appear, with none yet in the south west and a low incidence of 1% elsewhere. While, however, each area used urns with much the same frequency (all are in the 32-38% band), the south peoples used mounds far more than the south west and the south east (85-61-46%), and the south east used pits far more than the south and south west (87-73-42%). Pit usage also grew considerably in every area since the last period, and to a lesser degree so did the use of mounds in the south and south east (while the south west remained steady). Of the stone-built structures, chambers virtually disappeared from use except at a low level in the south west (5%), and platform or paving incidences fall away considerably from previous levels, but cist use increased in the south west to 38%, staying low elsewhere (4-5%). The use of cairns generally increases in all areas, but is still strongest in the south west at 28% incidence, and relatively low elsewhere. The open surface disposals fall everywhere to an average of 15% (nearly one-third the previous showing). Mortuary house incidence also falls to a very low and more or less uniform incidence in all areas. Other burial containers either do not occur or are very rare, the one last point of remark being on the low but even representation of pyres with disposals, at 5% everywhere.

While there are aspects of difference between the areas, the picture for 2500-14/1300bc in this analysis suggests more uniformity of pattern than otherwise, and some interesting changes happening from the previous period in the visible disposal record. These points will be returned to.


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