5.0 Patterns among foci of analysis in each of the individual periods

5.1 Introduction

Area similarities and differences within each period are examined here, and possible links between foci explored.

Animated map of site locations through time
Figure 5.1-1: Animated map of all site locations from 3500bc-AD43

5.2 3500-2500bc: The Earlier Neolithic

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

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

5.5 8/700-100bc: The Iron Age

5.6 100bc-AD43: The Continental Transition

5.7 Observations, Issues and Questions

3500-2500bc: The Earlier Neolithic

There are many similarities between the areas in this period, and this commentary focuses on the notable differences, for example where the characteristic is markedly reduced or even absent in an area.

The south east area uses open unstructured sites more than the others, an event which matches the lower visibility of the sites in that area, not surprisingly. The area also tended to use single design sites. There is, however, no obvious reason for the south east area's difference in the use of the open unstructured sites, and the occurrence will be worth re-examining if other evidence suggests one.

The south west area used completion processes notably more often than the other two, but on the other hand that area had sites which were more capable of receiving such treatment than those elsewhere. The issue here is perhaps to do with whether the areas had fundamentally the same disposal processes, but used different sites (including the empty monuments and causewayed enclosures) to play different roles. The structure and accessibility of the chambered tombs, for example, permitted a multiplicity of disposal and ritual processes to be carried out in one place which may have been shared among several types of sites in the other areas. This might explain the fact that the south area, which used a variety of disposal monuments, offers the highest incidence of ritual activity. These monument-rite relationships therefore need consideration. Yet another issue is whether completion may take forms other than the most often recognised one of in-filling chambers.

There are slight variations in the use of cremation and inhumation which need deeper investigation in the special studies. The south area has many more examples of the mortuary house, but this may be one physical representation of process that finds other forms in the other areas, and may not be as significant as at first might appear.

The south west peoples more often placed domestic refuse in the monument than did those in the south and south east areas, who placed it with the disposal. This may be a reflection of the monument type rather than of ritual.

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

The period appears to show a shift towards greater uniformity among the areas across the characteristics reviewed. There is an underlying question as to why this should generally be so, which may be answered by supposing population expansion into areas which brought the boundaries of the growing communities' subsistence territories into inevitable closer contiguity. A comparison of the respective geographical site distributions for the periods is suggestive. This process itself would have had a number of important social and economic implications for the original core groups however loosely structured. These would have inevitably led to political implications, of however embryonic a kind. This and other explanations of change need examination, but one perhaps should at the same time be looking ahead to the nature of changes in the succeeding period (8/700-100bc) and seeking their origins in this period.

However, in one respect the south west area appears to be very different in that it has a very high incidence of cremation only sites, indeed a marked shift from that of the previous period. Again why should this have happened?

Another feature, but of uniformity this time, which perhaps will repay consideration, is the far higher occurrence of sites with single disposals in this period. Whether this is some reflection upon attitudes of society at large in this period must be a question. It may be a function of a spreading population, with denucleation of the original foci.

The change to less ritual activity, more recognition of the individual, more personal grave goods, a single phase rite dominance, a reduction in ritualistic deposits such as domestic refuse - these in combination suggest a possible shift from the communal focus to the individual in respect of disposal processes. This perhaps should be taken with the question of whether the communal identity expressed itself in other ways.

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

The more uniform pattern of disposal location of the last period is breaking up, with the south west and south east peoples turning to use more open unstructured sites (with correspondingly reduced visibility) than the south area, which stays much as before. Is there indeed a faint suggestion that throughout the whole period 3500-8/700bc the south area offers a slightly more passive absorbing picture, while the flanking areas are more generative of change? An issue is why should either be the case, since none is geographically isolated from either internal or external influence. Whether this is indeed the case, and what influences may be at work need enquiring into. An alternative view might be that there were advances and retreats in area patterns of disposal practice that do not knit into a broad pattern very well either within or between periods, and that to suggest otherwise is to strain the evidence. So far the threads are tenuous.

Indeed there are diverse undercurrents. Another is the steep rise in cremation in the south and south east and in paralleling urnfield use there, as if the practice had spread eastwards from the south west in the previous period - but how and why are issues. Multiple similar disposals, particularly using urns, overtake multiple varied disposals but still are behind the single disposals in incidence. This is perhaps a continuation of converging similar practices begun in the previous period.

8/700-100bc: The Iron Age

There is a remarkable shift in the period from open structured sites to structured settlement disposals. All areas experience it but especially the south area, followed by the south east. One issue is perhaps whether a false impression is being created by the surviving evidence. There is less excavated settlement evidence for the preceding periods, and hence there may be an important gap in the disposal record which would alter the proportions for disposal locations in those periods. Disposals are found at some of the few settlements excavated of the earlier periods. The fort settlements of the Iron Age are very visible structures but there were Iron Age settlements other than fortified ones, and it may be necessary in due course to make distinctions between the types in considering the meaning of the disposals' location and rite.

Whether it corresponds or not is a matter for consideration, but inhumation returns as the majority disposal process, and there is an associated rise in part and whole body disposal, and particularly in animal and domestic refuse deposits. It is almost as if the settlement now took on the functions of home for both the living society and at least some of the community of their dead. What events and rationales are at work must be examined. There are, amid this change, constants which must be taken into account, such as grave goods, and single phase rites. There are also other shifts towards a more even pattern of disposal modes between single, multiple similar and multiple varied.

100bc-AD43: The Continental Transition

In the period where there is historical evidence for growing external and latterly very direct influences on the peoples of southern England, there are perhaps fewer changes from the last period's characteristics than might be expected. A notable shift occurs in the representation of personal grave goods, which in the south and south east areas is as high as the previous highest, in 2500-14/1300bc. The south west area stays at the low level it had in the last period. This feature of the south and south east might be attributed to the influences of and commercial benefits from continental contact, but the detail needs examination to confirm or refute this suggestion.

Ritual activity falls in this period, as does the deposit of animal bone and domestic refuse. It may be that the closer influence of the continent is having a subtle effect on the use of these practices associated with human burial practice. What form those influences might take and an assessment of their effects will be a matter for investigation, but perhaps they should not be over-emphasised. On the other hand, to suppose that ritual activity is on the wane through some form of 'civilising' influence is to ignore the evidence for other media for its expression in other contexts at this time and later.


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