100bc-AD43: The continental transition

Distribution of sites for Continental transition
Figure 6.21-5: Distribution of sites for Continental Transition

6.21 100bc-AD43 in the South West

The south west area has 44 sites in this period, of which 17 are single disposal sites, 13 multiple similar disposal sites, and 14 multiple varied disposal sites. In these groups there are respectively nil, 2 and 5 sites which have evidence for ritual activity. The single disposals cluster in the north Cotswolds, then are thinly represented in the west and south of the area, with an apparent large gap in the Glastonbury Plain-Exmoor region. The multiple similar disposals are mostly focused in the south Cotswold-Mendip region, but appear in a thin scatter elsewhere. The multiple varied disposal sites have a distribution pattern which clusters in the Mendip region, but is very thin elsewhere. The numbers in each group are small but even, making these slight differences interesting features.

6.22 100bc-AD43 in the South

The south area has 69 sites in this period, of which 26 are single disposal sites, 25 multiple similar disposal sites, and 18 multiple varied disposal sites. In these groups there are respectively nil, 3 and 4 sites which have evidence for ritual activity. The single disposals appear to be widely spread in the south area, in the Stonehenge-Dorchester oval, along the south west Dorset coast, on the Isle of Wight and in north Hampshire. The multiple similar disposals are mostly focused in a group south of Bokerley Dyke and particularly around Dorchester. They also appear in north east Hampshire, but are scant elsewhere, there being none in south Hampshire or the Isle of Wight. The multiple varied disposal sites have a distribution pattern which is the same as the multiple similar disposal sites.

6.23 100bc-AD43 in the South East

The general distribution of sites in the south east area in this period has three definite foci: the lower Thames Valley and east Kent, the belt of land just north of the Ridgeway from the western end to north Buckinghamshire, and a looser grouping just north of the South Downs. There are 68 sites, of which >32 are single disposal sites, >16 multiple similar disposal sites, and >20 multiple varied disposal sites. In these groups there are respectively 2, 1, and 4 sites which have evidence for ritual activity. The single disposals have concentrations in east Kent, the lower Thames Valley, and then particularly in a line that follows and is just north of the Ridgeway from its south west end to north Buckinghamshire. The multiple similar disposals are in much the same distribution, but with fewer in the north and south of the area, and most in the lower Thames Valley and estuary region. The multiple varied disposal sites have a similar general spread, but there is a particular concentration at the western end of the Ridgeway.

6.24 Observations, Issues and Questions

This period of c. 80 radiocarbon years (c. 150 calendar years), taking the longest possible span, is the shortest of the five periods being studied and contains the second smallest number of Gazetteer sites at 181. The south west area again supplies the fewest sites (44), but the south and south east areas are similar in total at 69 and 68 respectively. The settlement sites of various types, open, enclosed and fortified, remain a frequent location for human remains in both casual and disposal contexts. There is a growth in organised flat inhumation cemeteries, and a return to a higher incidence of wealthier burial graves. Shrines continue to have an occasional presence as disposal sites. Single isolated graves appear to rise in proportion to multiple disposal sites.

The more equal ritual attention apparently given to the three disposal types in 14/1300-8/700bc, and which came out unambiguously in the evidence for 8/700-100bc, continues in 100bc-AD43. Evidence for ritual activities is not plentiful, and displays variation between the three areas. The south west area has scarcely any, but the south and south east areas, especially in their multiple disposals, follow previous traditions. Single monuments are not the major focus for disposal (or are rarely so), but rather the settlement itself (pits and other locations within the settlement ambit), and the flat grave cemetery. The considerable reduction in on-site small pit ritual of 8/700-100bc continues in this period, but shaft ritual, which is to increase in the Roman occupation, begins to show in the evidence. In all this, the south area again has the strongest evidence for ritual activity, although the south east area is a close rival.

Disposal container type and distribution

The reduction in types of container noted for all areas in the last period continues in this. The pit on the settlement site is dominant as the receptor of remains, but communal low profile cemeteries are increasing. The container types in use are narrow in range and, as in the last period, sites are seldom constructed as monuments to be seen far and wide, although a few contemporary round barrows are found in the south east area. The inter-relationship of domestic refuse with the disposal process is still a detectable strand, but a discernible class of burial has emerged in the form of flat graves with moderately wealthy grave goods in well organised inhumation cemeteries.

The small number of sites in the south west area does not help with generalisations about population groupings. The Cotswold-Mendip evidence in that area suggests that the district continues to be well peopled, but (as before) the sparseness of sites elsewhere in that area may not imply a population reduced from previous times. The south area has the same population foci as in the Iron Age. In the previous period, the south east area continued to have population foci in east Kent and the South Downs, and showed a shift in the northern part of the area to use of sites on or north of the Ridgeway, from foci around and south of Oxford. In 100bc-AD43 the east Kent focus seems to spread into the lower Thames Valley, the South Downs focus moves a little north, and the third focus is identified as the belt of land just north of the Ridgeway from its western end to North Buckinghamshire.

Single and multiple phase rites

Just as in 8/700-100bc, while the majority of disposals in 100bc-AD43 appear to use the single phase rite, the multiple phase rite may, on closer inspection through the special studies, have been more in evidence than analysis has previously indicated. The same comments that were made under this head in the last period apply: much depends on the interpretation of evidence, and on correctly sensing that more activity perhaps underlies the evidence than may at first appear. One problem lies in disentangling what may be evidence for process concerning disposal ritual from that which may be concerned with other or wider ritual activity but which uses human remains in whole or part as a medium. Where the line is drawn between these two can determine whether remains are to be classed as subject to a single or multiple disposal process. Key to this is the issue of whether part remains found in deposits of domestic refuse are still in a transitional disposal process or are in some other use. The problem of interpretation has now followed the research through all five periods. There are still many pit and ditch deposits of uncertain import: are they disposals, do they belong to another form of ritual process, are they both of these, or are they casual?

The period 8/700-100bc presented a sharp change in disposal method from that of the previous period, moving from cremation to inhumation. In 100bc-AD43 the inhumation method continued in strong use in the south west and south areas, but the south east area turned again to cremation. If this is to be attributed to the growing contact of south eastern England with the European mainland in this period, and the absorption of continental practice (which is plausible), then it makes anticipation of the explanation which must be sought for the south west area's advanced shift to cremation in 2500-14/1300bc more keen. On the other hand, this approach assumes that the main borders with the continent were Kent, Sussex and Essex, but not Hampshire, and that the south area was little involved. It is an interesting, and possibly relevant, fact that in 100bc-AD43 cremation was in proportion much more frequently applied on single disposal sites in all areas, as if such a disposal was being deliberately marked out by the use of this method, perhaps especially in the south and south west. Perhaps (but this may stretch the argument unduly) these south and south west single disposals were afforded the rite as an elite style of disposal - following a mainland continental fashion?

Ritual activity and special deposits

The retrenchment in ritual activity continues in this period, the south west area having only slight evidence, the south and south east areas with even less. What does occur continues to follow the pattern of 14/1300-100bc in not particularly favouring any disposal type. The activity contains examples of forms encountered since 3500bc, but there is one new one unambiguously recognisable, the setting down of meat joints with the dead. The settlements continue to provide a more concentrated focus for certain ritual activities centring on pit disposals. The return to cremation does not appear to have inhibited on-site ritual activity (albeit slight) in the south east area in the way it did for all areas in 14/1300-8/700bc.

Table 6.24-1 gives an update to help in the comparison with, as before, subjective indicators of relatively high (H), medium (M) or low (L) frequency for all five periods.

Disposal process

The single and multiple similar disposals of every area continue to share similar characteristics, with no site containing both inhumation and cremation on it at the same time. In the south west and south areas, these two types were the only types to hold cremation only sites (the multiple varied type having none), and in the south west and south areas only the multiple varied disposal sites had examples with both disposal methods on the same site. All types had a heavy bias towards inhumation only sites except in the south east area, where cremation dominated all disposal types.


Once again the summary is very similar to that for (now) the last three periods, in that the deliberate setting down of part of the cremated remains or just part of an inhumed body was not common but was identifiable in all areas. However, in this period the south east area was not particularly prominent. In the case of inhumation, tokenism again seems to overlap with the deliberate use of the body part (skulls or skull parts especially), not simply in ditch contexts but more widely in settlement pits where there are very many examples but whose meaning is ambiguous. As suggested above and in earlier sections, these become hard to distinguish from ritual activity with wider meaning than disposal process.

Mortuary structures and other internal structures

Evidence for mortuary structures and other internal structures is slight. There are possible sites, one in each of the south west and south east areas. The two burial vaults at 425 Stanfordbury are perhaps not mortuary structures in the traditional sense although their contents included many domestic items.

Ritual activity3500-2500bc 2500-14/1300bc 14/1300-8/700bc 8/700-100bc 100bc-AD43
Site selection (assumed) HH H L L
Floor clearance M M L L L
Platform constructionL L M LL
Grave lining L ML LL
Temporary disposalMMM M L
Binding or bundling L LLLL
Stake structuresLM L L L
Pit activity MH L HL
Importing materials LLL LL
Use of colour LL L L L
Special floor covering LLL L L
Empty grave or container LML LL
Self-mutilation LL LL L
TramplingL L L L L
Shaft making L L L LL
Fires or burningMH M LL
Spreads or scatters L M L LL
Burial of artefactsL M M L L
Burial of domestic refuse H HM HM
Burial of animals or bone HHM MH
Votive offering L L LM M
Human bone manipulation M H M ML
Storage of cremated boneL L LLL
Stoning of deposit L L L LL
Deliberate breakage LML LL
Grave fill with bone frags L LLLL
Setting down grave goodsL MLLH
Token deposit LM LM L
Designed layoutL L LL L
Ritual structure LM LL L
Monument blocking M LL LL
Mound layeringLM L L L
Boundary settingM H L L L
Sculpting L M L L L
Table 6.24-1 Broad comparison of ritual activity incidence over 3500bc-AD43

The others which might be considered are sites with seeming religious connotations: the shrines at 1332 Uley, 1333 Maiden Castle, and 1229 Frilford, the ritual building at 1196 Trethellan Farm (still venerated in this period?), and ritual shafts at 1303 Guy's Rift, 1328 Cadbury Castle, 1329 Greenhithe, and 1330 Heywood. Perhaps sites like these are becoming the objects of ritual attention shifting from the disposal site itself.

Grave good deposits

The areas bear much similarity to one another within and across the different disposal types. The one exception is in the south west area single disposals, which have scant grave goods and are not in any other way distinguished. In the south area these disposals include a warrior burial and other disposals with fine vessels in quantity. In the south east area there is a variety, and the grave goods' quality and quantity fall in between the other two.

The multiple similar disposals have a fairly even tenor throughout the three areas, with indications of wealth through accompaniments of vessels and personal items of value in small quantity, but rather less in the south west area. This type also includes unusual burials within the spectrum: the extraordinarily wealthy vault burials at 425 Stanfordbury, and the double female burial at 1553 Viables Farm which was accompanied by whole and part animals and in the middle of a homestead. The south east area tended to have fewer animal part deposits than the south west and south areas in this group.

The multiple varied disposal group contains warrior burials in the south west and south areas, large cemeteries with moderately wealthy burials, and the occasional very wealthy burial such as that at 1281 Cowley 4. There are other types with interesting features of ritual, like that at 1219 Ireley Farm (burnt corn placed on the chest). In the south area the span of goods appears widest, and the females identified appear overall to be less well furnished than the males.

In all this, it must be remembered that there is still a very heavy proportion of disposals buried with no grave goods at all. It is also the case that wealthy burials may lie beside those with moderate or no grave goods. The new feature is the orderly flat cemetery with up to 150 graves quite often accompanied by good quality personal decor items (rings, armlets and brooches most usually), which might be representing an emergent group in society. 1552 Westhampnett Bypass and 1178 Stamford Hill (in the south east and south west areas respectively) are good examples of the class.

Alongside these burials the settlement pit and ditch disposals continue, and the same issues arise as were commented upon in the last period concerning the domestic refuse associations and activity centring on the disposal process within the settlement area. The record is generally not as well documented for 100bc-AD43, but the occurrences appear similar in nature and the south area provides the clearest examples. That at 1553 Viables Farm is the most striking, but at 324 Barton Court Farm the hut disposal echoes the past, and the ditch terminal burial of a female at 1015 Cassington Big Enclosure is a disposal setting with many antecedents.

Elite burial rites

There appears to have emerged a number of distinct categories from amongst the disposal types, which more clearly than before may be signalling different sets of rites for members of the society in this period. On the other hand, it is possible that society itself is changing in its composition, and these different rites mirror this change.

Settlements continue to provide examples of the pit or ditch disposal, sometimes complete and in settings suggesting a particular use of the burial (324 Barton Court Farm where there was a hut disposal [met occasionally before in previous periods], and 1015 Cassington Big Enclosure where a female was burial in a ditch terminal). At other times the disposals have an ambivalence, occurring partially, casually or in domestic refuse associations that only rarely can be assumed deliberate (1520 Copse Farm, for example). At yet other times, the disposal resembles those of the Iron Age in settlement pits, as remarked upon above.

Elsewhere there are organised flat cemeteries of varying size, with the previously encountered mixture of grave good accompaniment, ranging from the very modest to the moderately generous (say, 2-3 vessels) on the same site - the 'middle class' burial. The classic examples of such burials appears to be those already quoted at 1552 Westhampnett Bypass, where there were 150 burials with the remains usually placed on the bottom of a small circular grave accompanied by one or two pots, brooches accompanying some, and at 1178 Stamford Hill. It is again not uncommon for there to be animal bone accompanying disposals, but the very large separate pit containing such bone at 1271 Aylesford was unusual. At some cemeteries there also appear to be groupings of graves. These organised inhumation cemeteries with well-appointed burials seem to be a new feature.

There are several possible shrine sites, with simple burials that have been assumed votive (although not necessarily sacrificial), and there are other sites with possible ritual purpose where disposals have been set. However, it is not certain whether people have been selected for these disposals, or whether simply any convenient remains have been used.

The rich burials are not all dependent on impressive containers like that at 425 Stanfordbury, but rather on extensive collections of accompanying artefacts. They seem to divide into the military and the domestic, the former being rare. It is a point of interest that although the warrior burials contain full weaponry and armour (as did the occasional similar burial in the Iron Age), weapons are rarely found at burials of any other kind in the period. The evidence does suggest a military and civil elite, the civil elite in this case having domestic goods of quality and quantity buried with them. These goods are of a level significantly above that for the flat cemetery burials of the emergent class, the burials at 425 Stanfordbury apparently being on the western edge of a series of very rich disposals spreading eastwards to Colchester.

These very rich disposals occur in the territory of the Catavellauni, and many of them are of similar form, being set in unmounded 2-3m deep pits of regular and sometimes elaborate construction. The sites include Welwyn I and II (goods included amphorae, firedogs, bronze bowls, bronze masks, urns, tankard, silverware and a sacrificial outfit), Mount Bures (amphorae, firedogs, spits, wooden box, glassware, platters), Lexden (a pit 10 x 6 x 2m deep, uniquely overlaid with a barrow, and containing a palanquin, a silver portrait medallion of Augustus, amphorae, other pottery, leather clothing, chainmail, silver ware, a wooden chest, bronze objects mostly of classical design, enamelwork and fine gold tissue), Snailwell (wooden bier, amphorae, much pottery, bronzeware and funeral feast remnants), Little Amwell (a palanquin bound with iron, amphorae and other vessels, ironwork, an iron knife, and glassware), Welwyn [Mardleybury](3 amphorae), and Folly Lane, St Albans.

The last was in the centre of a large ditched ritual enclosure dating from the mid-1st century AD and within the area of the Late Iron Age oppidum. The butt ends of the ditch entrance contained three human burials in the south terminal, and cattle and horse bones with a possible fourth human burial in the north terminal. The rest of the ditch was clean. The cremation was set within a sunken funerary chamber of stout and elaborate wooden construction c. 8m square within a 2.8m deep shaft. Goods of copper alloy and silver had been burnt, and then deposited in the grave pit. Other goods included a complete iron chainmail tunic and pottery which had been deliberately broken. The disposal process suggests that the deceased had been laid out with the grave goods for a period, and then was cremated, the grave goods being destroyed and redeposited in the secondary stage with the cremated bones scattered on top. The grave was then closed, the shaft structures being demolished, and a mound raised over the site. If the shaft grave and the enclosure ditch formed part of a single design as the central positioning of the grave suggests, then the ditch burials may have occurred at this last stage.

What is significant is that 425 Stanfordbury, when seen in the context of these kindred sites just to the east, holds significance not solely as an indicator of an elite burial rite, but of one where the primary and secondary disposal processes (and their accompanying symbolisms) noted from 3500bc onwards as occurring in every period are still in strong evidence in the richest echelon of society in southern Britain at this time.

The issue of the burial of arms with disposals suggests that some attention might need to be given to re-interpretation of the 'knives' and 'daggers' set down with (usually) Beaker burials in 2500-14/1300bc. There has been a suggestion that these were not usable weapons, as they were easily bent, and their purpose in disposal may have been symbolic, as with a number of other artefacts set down with burials at that time, such as maces and axes. In retrospect, that period may have exhibited at least three elite groups: a wealthy class such as that clearly identified in the current period, a widely distributed middle class exemplified by Beaker and craft burials, and a lower class undistinguished by goods, but perhaps subject to disposal rituals more akin to those of the settlement type. These possibilities need revisiting in review.

The period 100bc-AD43: some concluding remarks

The three areas continue to move together in their disposal practices in broad terms, with the variations noted above.

The use of settlements as ritual foci appears to continue, but structured monuments are reappearing in the form of more flat inhumation cemeteries, shrines and (albeit rarely) the visible barrow monument. It has to be established whether the link between the settlement and all disposal activity is beginning to weaken, and the existence of these other monuments need not imply this was the case. The shrine and the cemetery may begin to offer opportunities to refocus ritual activity for the community, and the continental European influence might have found this medium alongside trade a powerful form of entry into what appears to have been an increasingly wealthy economy. This discussion enters into the theory of how the Roman Empire infiltrated bordering territory by various civil means and then entered and took it. The medium at this point was in a voluntary context. At all events, monumentality in this period is dissipating, and the settlement focus of the Iron Age for disposals is broadening.

Are there any detectable area links? The distribution of sites is again skewed to the south and south east areas, and the distribution within the south west area is again largely concentrated in the Cotswold-Mendip region. There appear no particular links, the areas all continuing to share similar processes in similar contexts.

The increase in the placing (or survival) of grave goods is maintained from the last period, as is non-differentiation in the ritual treatment of the single and multiple disposal types, all continuing to be given equal disposal treatment ritually. The cremation cemeteries have disappeared, except for small groups in the south east area which favoured cremation, but they have been replaced by the inhumation cemetery which had begun to emerge in the Iron Age. Cremation still exists as a method in all areas, but continues to be practised more for the individual disposal than the multiple (where it was rare save in the south east area). Ritual activity in traditional forms exists but is low key.

The examination of special characteristics of this final period has possibly uncovered sharper divisions in the society of southern England than was obvious in the last period, but there is still fundamentally little underlying difference in the disposal processes. The three broad stages of disposal process are still discernible, if constrained, even though ritual activity is still diminished, and the preliminary grouping of major elements has been completed in Table 6.24-1 with no new elements being added. The evidence for disposal process obtained in this period continues to support the idea of transition, although the particular use to which the human remains are being put may be changing again to reflect the preoccupations and convictions of the communities of the time.


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