9.3 The Final Research Propositions and Hypotheses for Testing

This work began with nine provisional propositions, moving from simple propositions through to those which require substantial testing of major assumptions (for example about the structure of society), and thence to the most speculative propositions concerning belief. The first step is to confirm, change or add to the initial set of propositions, and then 'produce a series of testable hypotheses which, if verified against independent empirical data, would tend to verify the proposition.' (Binford 1968, 17).

Examination of the original propositions in absolute terms

Propositions 1 and 2 are relatively straightforward and could stand as they are. In the case of Proposition 4, the term 'elite class' may be ambiguous. The most usual interpretation of 'elite class' is one denoting a dominant, coercive, and ruling force (a socio-economic leadership that holds and controls society resources). Interpreted as such the proposition could stand, but it must follow that in Proposition 3 the term 'segments' implies testing not just for the existence of other classes in the socio-economic sense, but for the presence of role-holders of status and influence but without coercive power who are an elite in the general ranking sense. With these glosses on interpretation, Propositions 3-5 could stand with some clarification by rephrasing.

Propositions 6 and 7 enter into the territory of thought and belief. Proposition 6 now appears too loosely worded. Its original purpose was to posit that societal structure was subject to change, and that disposal rites formed one opportunity of recognising such change; also that disposal evidence might show development and change in society's concepts of an otherworld and an afterlife. These are distinctly different propositions, the second being already covered in part by Proposition 7. To remain, they need clarification.

Proposition 8 is also loosely worded as it stands. Its original purpose was to suggest that the period of some 4300 calendar years exhibited through time a complex and possibly changing structure of beliefs and attitudes to death and life circumstances expressed through the disposal processes used, with possible differences in the geographical regions under study. This was not to suggest that there might also be some underlying structures of belief, attitudes and practice of greater durability. Proposition 9, however, is relatively straightforward in the same sense as Propositions 1 and 2.

Examination of the original propositions in relative terms: the wider research context

The original propositions were constructed at the outset of research as foci of initial interest, and as important guides to the nature of data to be assembled with which to test hypotheses on which they might depend. Much archaeological and anthropological data has since been gathered, and used to assist the construction of Figure 9.3-1 which provides the methodological framework for this section.

Figure 9.3-1: The relationship of disposal data, evidence and theory to purpose and thence to major behavioural contexts
Flow chart depicting input of data into development of theories

Figure 9.3-1 provides an inter-relational framework for disposal practice and the behavioural foci of society. This framework was not available at the outset, but can now be used in a broad context to influence composition of the final propositions - the 'high-probability statements covering a broad range of phenomena' which Binford advocated as science's aim. The final propositions are grouped under the four behavioural foci.

Propositions concerning present community oriented behaviour

  1. that a variety of means of disposal of the dead existed through prehistory (original 1).[Examine hypothesis]
  2. that excarnation may have been practised through much of prehistory (original 2).[Examine hypothesis]
  3. that 3rd millennium religious foci continued to be used into the second millennium, some developing into tribal centres after hill forts had been built within them (original 9).[Examine hypothesis]
  4. that communal burial monuments*, and the significance of the location of individuals within them may have reduced in occurrence and importance through prehistory.[Examine hypothesis]
  5. that process connections may have existed between settlement activity and disposal activity through prehistory.[Examine hypothesis]

Propositions concerning status oriented behaviour

  1. that the prehistoric population may have been segmented into groups and individuals with different statuses, and these segments may have been disposed of according to distinct burial rites through much of prehistory (original 3 revised).[Examine hypothesis]
  2. that it may be possible through prehistory to recognise the burial rite or rites afforded to an elite class, defined as a dominant, coercive or ruling segment (original 4 revised).[Examine hypothesis]
  3. that the burial rite or rites afforded to an elite class may have changed more rapidly than those of other segments of the population through prehistory (original 5).[Examine hypothesis]
  4. that age and sex may not have determined disposal process significantly through prehistory.[Examine hypothesis]

Propositions concerning ancestral community oriented behaviour

  1. that through prehistory society may have tended a community of ancestors, and may have had changing motivations for such care dependent on concurrent changes in foci of belief.[Examine hypothesis]
  2. that the community of ancestors may have been conceived at times through prehistory as located in more than one place (that is not simply in disposal locations, but in settlement locations and elsewhere).[Examine hypothesis]

Propositions concerning belief oriented behaviour

  1. that beliefs in an otherworld may have existed through prehistory (original 7 revised).[Examine hypothesis]
  2. that beliefs may have existed through prehistory centring on concepts identified by studies as central to disposal as a rite of passage such as liminality and separation (boundaries), transition, jeopardy, pollution, the soul (existence, journeying, influencing, destiny), good and bad deaths, the power of the elements in disposal processes for purposes of establishing order and reduction of disorder, use of symbols (through objects per se, or their direction, location, drawing, shaping and colour), sexuality and fertility.[Examine hypothesis]
  3. that these beliefs are exhibited in evidence from prehistoric contexts other than disposal contexts through prehistory.[Examine hypothesis]


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