6.0 Period and area studies with special attention to disposal method, ritual, location and associations

6.1 Moving to Detail

It is now necessary to move to more sensitive handling of the great mass of data gathered for 3500bc-AD43. Analysis so far has kept strictly to separate examination of the individual characteristics, and to elicit patterns within the three defined geographical areas or, more correctly, county groupings. The analysis has indicated some broad patterns. This section will now explore the richer pictures that the site records provide, to reveal the actuality of disposal attitudes and practice.

6.2 Coding Levels

Some site characteristics need sub-definition if a full picture is to be described. The clearest examples are sites which have multiple disposals not sharing common attributes (009), since an attempt should be made to examine the specific attributes of individual disposals on those sites for links (for example sex, grave goods, disposal phasing and disposal method). At present, these attributes are simply coded as present on the sites but not attributed to individuals. On the other hand, single disposals (001) and multiple similar disposals (002) have the attributes linked by their being held in common. The second example where it might be informative to record more detail is for ritual activity (053), where there is a variety of such indicators in site records (for example the digging of pits and scoops, trampling, stake settings, fires, and deposits of domestic refuse). These may relate to the processes preceding, during and after disposal, and may hold many clues regarding these processes.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether analysis dependent on the results of further coding is truly valuable, bearing in mind the 'givens' and other relevant factors. Might such statistical analysis, in support of the more sensitive analytical approach that is now necessary at the lower level, lead the research into a false precision? Another important context for exercising some caution about the use of further coding is that the research is often dealing with low site numbers in each period and in each area, as noted in sections 4 and 5. Table 6.2-1 sets the numbers involved:

AREASSITES 3500-2500 2500-1400 1400-800 800-100100-AD43
SW483 47322 353544
Totals17541291023282138 182
Table 6.2-1 Summary of site examples with disposals by period

Only the period 2500-14/1300bc appears to offer a numerically adequate base for further coding analysis for all three areas, as well as possibly the period 14/1300-8/700bc for the south area alone. The other cells in the table have comparatively small numbers (in the range 35-69) which do not offer a very secure base for the refined analysis referred to above as desirable, to be supported by statistical exercises.

6.3 Soft Analysis

The conclusion, after taking the above into account, is that a fairly soft analytical approach is required for the data referred to in this section. The period/area framework was retained, but it the area boundaries were crossed to draw together related sites or groups of sites, and to pay more attention to physical geography. The county group division is serviceable only up to a point. For all periods and areas a subjective review of the site records will be taken, broadly in the period/area group, but relating each group geographically to the neighbouring group to trace any links. The approach will seek to indicate possible patterns within periods and areas, and through time. The attempt is to bring disposal method, phased rite, ritual activity and grave good associations into the beginnings of related patterns by reviewing all the sites in the group selected, and then drawing data together.

6.4 Disposal Mode as the Entry Point to Commentary

The approach adopted to take the three disposal modes (single disposal, multiple similar and multiple varied disposals), and to examine each within each area, seeing what characteristics associated with them may be common to both the modes and the areas, and whether geographically there are any interesting similarities or differences. This approach has the merit of directness, since many of the associations are more or less clearly with the disposal rather than anything else. On the other hand it makes the assumption that disposal is person-centred rather than monument- or place-centred, and this may be unsafe. An effort will be made, therefore, to look at the evidence from those other angles from time to time to see what it has to say about those alternative assumptions. This particular approach is to be regarded therefore as a convenient way to sort and examine the evidence, without any prejudice as to its eventual value or validity (one of the matters to be tested by the process).


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