5.5 8/700-100bc: The Iron Age

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 Iron Age
Figure 5.5-1: Distribution of sites from Iron Age. Select map to retrieve sites (by county).

This period has 138 sites with disposals recorded, the distribution being 35 in the south west, 56 in the south area and 47 in the south east. It sees the use of the four types of disposal location spread in the surviving record (Tables 10, 11, 12). The settlement sites rise in incidence and the open sites fall. The south and south east areas show the greatest shift, the south area most of all. The sole point of stability is in the three areas continuing to use open unstructured sites at about the same incidence as in 14/1300-8/700bc (SW-S-SE at 26-5-23% compared with 29-2-18% before). Open structured site incidence drops by 40-50% in every area, and the settlements pick up to a corresponding degree, the south and south east tending to favour structured settlement disposals to unstructured disposals, and the south west the reverse (but in the last case the base numbers are small).

In monument characteristics (Tables 40, 41, 42), no site uses special materials, and only one site of the 138 uses a completion process. In all areas there is a further decline in the visibility of sites, and all areas appear to share a more or less common level of incidence: 20% of south west sites are visible, 27% in the south and 23% in the south east. Continuing the pattern of shared characteristics, all areas heavily favour single design sites (96-98%). All finally have a majority of single period sites, the south west and south east highest at 79-80% incidence, and the south area at 66%: this represents a slight fluctuation from the previous period, the first two areas rising and the south falling.

Just as in 14/1300-8/700bc, so in 8/700-100bc the evidence for monument orientation is sparse, but body orientation is slightly better represented (Tables 70, 71, 72 and Tables 100, 101, 102 respectively). This probably has a correlation with disposal methods and containers. What evidence for monuments exists shows a seeming preference for the NW-NE and SE-SW quadrants. For bodies, the orientation incidence follows a preference for NW-NE followed by the rest in clockwise order, somewhat as in 2500-14/1300bc, but the numerical base is not high. All quadrants are represented, the SE-NW rather better than previously.

With rite data (Tables 130, 131, 132), the areas show the single phase universally preferred in the south west and the south east, and at 96% incidence in the south area. Evidence for ritual activity maintains a steady presence in all areas, but more in the south (20% incidence) than in the south west and south east (14-15%). Turning to disposal methods (Tables 160, 161, 162), it is clear that all areas have swung strongly back to inhumation as the most popular method (80-86% incidence for inhumation by itself on a site), and cremation alone on a site falls away. The south area shows the most dramatic reverse from cremation only to inhumation only (now 9-86% against the former 86-5%). It is notable that sites with both the modes on them are now comparatively rare (0-6%), the south west having none. The incidence of part and whole bodies has returned to the levels of the two earliest periods, whole bodies being the highest frequency, but disposal of parts nearly as high (36-31%). Sites without such evidence are now of lower incidence than at any other time.

Evidence for the sex of burials is the strongest since the period 3500-2500bc (Tables 190, 191, 192). Male only, female only and mixed sex burials are of fairly even incidence, with female only burials very slightly more frequent, and heaviest in the south, as were burials of both sexes. Male only burials were more frequent in the south east. The numbers are not high, however. There appears a slight correlation with the figures for burial groups (Tables 220, 221, 222), where overall adult and child and adult only burials were of fairly even incidence (12-14%). Child only burials are still unusual in every area, but higher in this period than before at 4%.

The overall feature of age incidence in this period (Tables 250, 251, 252) is the even representation of the age groups, except for the group 2-17 which has twice the incidence of each of the others (28% against 13-14%). Within the areas, the south has the highest incidence in every age group, a rather remarkable fact, the south west being at the average, and the south east being as high as the others for 2-17 representation, but well below the others in every other age group. It is uncertain whether much meaning can be squeezed from these variations.

The personal grave goods evidence follows a similar pattern to that of preceding periods in terms of preferences for certain types (Tables 280, 281, 282). Their deposition is more often recorded than was the case in 14/1300-8/700bc, although it does not reach the levels of 2500-14/1300bc. All areas favour deposits of personal utensils and items of personal decor, but the south west peoples also deposit personal craft items to a similar degree, as do the south peoples items of excellence. The other two areas are low depositors of the last type. However, the numerical base is not high throughout.

The same comment is true of animal associations data (Tables 310, 311, 312), but not of domestic refuse data (Tables 340, 341, 342) which are taken together here. The animal associations show that animal parts were the most frequent deposit at 12% of sites overall (ranging from 9-15% in individual areas) and close to 3500-14/1300bc levels, and that whole animal disposal occurred in all areas to a higher degree than previously, but still very infrequently (4-6%). On the other hand, there are more recordings for this period of the deposition of domestic refuse both in the monument and with the burial itself. This characteristic returns to a level of incidence approaching that of 3500-2500bc, and is also similar in the way that attention is given equally to the monument and the disposal (33% and 32% incidence respectively). The south east area has the highest incidence of all, just as in 3500-2500bc, followed by the south and the south west, again as before. However, in this period there is a much greater evenness of incidence among the areas.

The single or multiple disposal mode data (Tables 370, 371, 372) is not dissimilar to that for the previous period 14/1300-8/700bc. Single disposals are still of high incidence in the south east and south west (49-51%) but drop a little in the south from 43-34%. Multiple similar disposals stay the same in the south and south east areas, but drop slightly in the south west. All areas show a rise in the incidence of multiple varied disposals, the south west more so than the other areas. The general impression is of a more even pattern of use of disposal modes overall.

Tables 400, 401 and 402 on physical burial containers shows that for 8/700-100bc, pits are now by far the most dominant container (72% incidence) followed far behind by mounds (14%), with urns and cists equal at 5%. Among the areas, the south has the highest pit incidence at 79%, but even the south west, which has previously lagged well behind in pit use, has 60% incidence. The south east area is just at the average. The areas all vary in mound use, the south being strongest at 20%, the south east weakest at 6%. Open surface disposal is much more strongly represented, and is moving back to 3500-2500bc levels at 28% incidence overall, the south west and south east having much higher incidence than the south (37-34-16% respectively). The south west remains the strongest user of stone-built monuments, but only cist incidence in the south west at 11% reaches any notable level. Urn use survives in the south and south west (6-7% incidence), but the south is the only area with urnfields, and the south west has no surviving record.


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