9.0 Attitudes to disposal of the dead 3500bc-AD43

9.1 Introduction

The purpose of this research has been to discover the attitudes to disposal of the dead in each of the five periods for southern Britain. This section uses the evidence collected to examine a series of propositions suggesting these likely attitudes. If discernible or reconstructible, the section also suggests when, in what ways and why any changes may have occurred.

It will be apparent from previous sections (but particularly Sections 2 and 8) that to keep to a path which goes much beyond the evidence will be difficult if the charges of speculation and over-indulgence in intuition are to be avoided. The pitfalls of dependency on the partial picture given by what survives, and the risks of importing present-day values have all been referred to. There is nonetheless one challenge (and risk) which must be accepted if any advance in knowledge is to be hoped for, and that is to allow some space for the reasoning imagination in reconstruction. The objective of this section is to set out as full a presentation of attitudes to disposal of the dead as seems derivable from the evidence collected. This will involve assuming some contextual models which are founded on the evidence, but may have structures extending beyond it. Their purpose will be partly to develop deeper explanations of what survives, and partly to allow some testing of the nature and manner of change through the very long chronological period and wide area covered by the research. Others might wish to argue differently on the evidence presented here, and certainly future discoveries on site or in the study, in library, museum or laboratory, will change and add to these ideas. Their main value is seen in the stimulus that they might possibly give to advancing understanding, whether by agreement on these ideas or by initiating new thinking.

The original periods and areas were chosen for the convenience of grouping information for later comparative purposes (see section 3 and Research Methods). This section will not necessarily be constrained by them. The reference core of the section will be the disposal process, since the accumulation of archaeological evidence needs explanation, and since there is a strong body of anthropological evidence that meanings are frequently, perhaps invariably, attached to these processes by human participants. These meanings, from the work of social anthropologists noted in Section 8, derive from attitudes to disposal of the dead which may relate to many facets of past, present and future life for individuals, groups and their society. This is a major assumption underlying what follows.

The disposal process therefore might be seen as a spine of sequential activity (described in Sections 7 and 8 as having pre-disposal, primary disposal, secondary disposal, and post-disposal phases), which affords evidence for attitudes discernible to a greater or lesser degree from the material remains and their contexts. Through the medium of the disposal process, these attitudes may be directed at purposes of several different kinds, serving physical and metaphysical existences and states in which behavioural contexts the disposal takes place. Some of these purposes may underlie all disposal processes, existing alongside every process in the spine of sequential disposal activity, and have a continuing focus. Others may be directed at one specific focus important at a particular point or points in the disposal process. The challenge and risk is in the attempt to suggest what the evidence might reasonably be conceived as revealing.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s)
University of York legal statements | Terms and Conditions | File last updated: Wed Nov 7 2001