5.4 14/1300-8/700bc: The Bronze Age

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

Distribution of sites from Bronze Age
Figure 5.4-1: Distribution of sites from Bronze Age. Select map to retrieve sites (by county).

The period 14/1300-8/700bc is represented by 282 sites, with an uneven distribution of 35 in the south west, 185 in the south area and 62 in the south east. Tables 7, 8 & 9 on disposal locations indicate that there is still a very strong bias towards using open sites in all areas, but the fairly uniform pattern of the last period is breaking up. The south area stays virtually the same, open structured sites being in complete dominance at 96% incidence. The south west increases its use of open unstructured sites to 29%, and its open structured site incidence drops to 66% (but these are small figures on which to base a percentage, as will be the case for the south west throughout this section). The south east people's use of the open unstructured site also grows and the open structured site incidence declines to 73%. In the south and south west areas settlement site use for disposals is rare, as before, but the south east has an 11% incidence against 1% in the last period.

In monument characteristics, some remain constant compared with 2500-14/1300bc (Tables 37, 38 & 39). All areas rarely use special materials on their sites, and completion processes are absent in the south and south east, and minimally represented in the south west. All areas favour the single design site (91-98%), and the south area maintains a high incidence of site visibility at 90%. The south west and the south east areas, however, show a considerable increase in less visible disposal sites, only 66% of south west sites being visible and 53% of south east sites. Finally, there is a rise in this period of multiple period site use, with the south west and south east areas having higher incidence than the south.

There is little that may be said safely about monument orientation and body orientation in this period as the data are so scanty (Tables 67, 68 & 69 and Tables 97, 98 & 99 respectively). On average, 91% of monuments have no particular orientation, as is the case with 97% of the body incidences. In monuments there is a suggestion that the SE-SW quadrant might have been more favoured, but the figures are dangerously small.

On rite (Tables 127, 128 & 129) on the other hand, there are some very clear patterns. The single phase rite was dominant at 97-99% incidence, the multiple phase rite a rarity. All areas gave evidence for ritual activity, with the south east and south peoples very close to the average incidence at 15-16%, and the south west well above it at 29%.

The period 14/1300-8/700bc sees a strong shift in disposal method (Tables 157, 158 & 159) to cremation, especially in the south and south east, since the south west area maintains approximately the same incidence as in the previous period (74%). The south area rises very steeply to 86% and the south east fairly strongly to 65% incidence from their 2500-14/1300bc levels. Inhumation only sites fall steeply in the south and less so in the south east, but again the south west area keeps at the same level as previously. All areas now have low and fairly even incidence of sites with both disposal methods on them, the south west again staying as before, and the other two areas falling substantially. Why the south west remained stable while the south and south east changed so noticeably in this period must be a question to be addressed. The incidence of part or whole bodies on south sites dropped steeply in this period, the south west area again staying much the same as in the last period, and the south east offering a greater incidence of part bodies and fewer of whole bodies than in 2500-14/1300bc. Sites without such evidence increase in this period. Overall, however, it is notable that even in this period which sees cremation at its peak, there is still a 20% site incidence of inhumation, counting sole and mixed together.

The incidence of identifiable sex has no special pattern in this period, and once again the underlying numbers of identified sex are small (Tables 187, 188 & 189). The same is true of the burial group data (Tables 217, 218 & 219). It is hard to see links between them that might be descried in other periods. The unweighted age Tables (247, 248 & 249) continue in this period to support the idea that the age bracket 2-17 was vulnerable, but with the low numbers involved there must be a little doubt.

14/1300-8/700bc is notable for the drop in surviving personal grave goods observable in Tables 277, 278 & 279. The words are chosen carefully, since with cremation now the dominant rite, there is evidence that such goods were burnt with the body, and therefore their presence may have been obscured by this ritual act. Disposals which were seemingly unaccompanied rise in this period to an average 87% site incidence, with the south area highest of the three at 93%. Although the percentage incidences of all types have fallen heavily (a range of 1-8%), the order of popularity is broadly maintained: personal utensils are highest, tokenism rises to second place, and then personal craft items, personal decor and items of excellence follow.

Animal whole and part associations are very low in this period (3% for parts and negligible for whole or mixed associations, Tables 307, 308 & 309), further declining except in the south west, but this is not mirrored as before by domestic refuse incidence which just maintains the overall levels of incidence of the previous period (Tables 337, 338 & 339). The previous evenness of treatment of monument and burial appears to return in this period, with the south west and south east proportionately more active than the south area (14-11-5% for monument deposits, and 11-10-3% for burial associations - but the numerical bases are very small).

In this period among the disposal modes there appears to be a continued strong tendency to favour the single burials at roughly twice the incidence of the multiple (Tables 367, 368 & 369). The main shift in the period 14/1300-8/700bc is from multiple varied disposal site incidence to the multiple similar mode. Overall the multiple similar mode now forms the second largest group, changing places with the multiple varied mode. The largest turnabout was in the south area, from a 10-41% split to a 35-22% division, with the other two areas moving so that these two modes came into broad balance (26-23% in each case). There is a clear link between these figures and the growth of urnfields and urn container disposals generally (see below). The overall quite interesting feature is that all the areas share broadly the same distribution of types, despite the varying numerical base.

Among the physical burial containers (Tables 397, 398 & 399), the pit now on average exceeds the mound in popularity, both being still in high incidence at 67% and 59% respectively. The urn burial now reaches highest incidence at 80% overall, and urnfields also peak at 22% incidence on sites. The three areas show the same relative tendencies to prefer the mound or the pit as in the previous period, but urn incidence is notably high in the south at 89% against the (still very high) 69% in the south west and 63% in the south east. The south west is much lower in urnfield use (14%), the south east and south being similar in incidence at 23-24%. The use of stone-built containers generally declines further in this period, the south west continuing to have the largest representation, and of cists in particular, at 31% incidence.


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