Research Methods

Collection of Data

Data were collected on any site within the chosen geographical area which contained human remains, whether complete or partial, apparently deposited within the timespan under review. This was achieved largely by the systematic search of major county journals in the geographical area to be covered, and by a similar search of the major national archaeological journals. A searchable list of the journals searched has also been provided.

An equally important (but quantitatively lesser) source of data were the reports of individual excavations published separately from the county or national journals. These might appear formally as individual commissioned publications, such as monographs, or in informal publications by research groups, local archaeological societies' newsletters or popular serious magazines such as Current Archaeology. Sometimes the latter group provided interim reports on sites which were to prove long delayed in formal publication or which have not yet been so published.

A third source were books which gave general surveys of periods, areas or major topics relevant to the research. These often provided useful data, references and cross-checks. They varied from publicly commissioned surveys to those undertaken by individuals, perhaps as part of a publisher's series, or to specialist professional series like the British Archaeological Research reports.

Articles and books have also been consulted to provide background information to the period under review, and to the work and methods of past research. These ranged from articles on the material cultures to works on models of economies, societies, time frames, and anthropological and behavioural topics.

The research records and their organisation: the site record and gazetteer

Site Record

Initially, the site record was in the form of organised handwritten notes, and the bibliography was on index cards. It became clear after beginning work on the second period (2500-14/1300bc) that the data being collected would not be accessible unless held on a computerised database, and that maintaining an accurate bibliography and a good bibliographical reference system would also depend on a similar system. In mid-1992, when research was suspended for two years owing to professional demands, no suitable system was on the market that provided the design flexibility required. Very fortunately when it became possible and desirable to resume research two years later, the Claris Corporation's package Filemaker Pro (Version 2.1) had become available which provided the facilities needed, without it, progress would have been impossible.

The design of the site record was important. Experience in manually recording data for the first period (3500-2500bc) was a useful test of the fields required in the database for the whole research period. A description of the fields recorded follows.

Analysis and Coding of Sites

It was decided that the only method suitable to investigate data patterns within and between periods relevant to the research was to code site information. Although every effort was made to keep the system simple and use an elementary binary or 'present/absent' principle, the code list is long as the number of worthwhile features is considerable.

Each code comprises 4 figures whose first number (5, 4, 3, 2 or 1) denotes the period to which the rest of the coded data relates. Thus 5 = 3500-2500bc, 4 = 2500-14/1300bc, 3 = 14/1300-8/700bc, 2 = 8/700-100bc, and 1 = 100bc-AD43. The remaining three figures in any code denote a characteristic of Location, Monument or Process of disposal of human remains occurring in that particular period.

Any set of characteristics can be combined in a search for sites of any period containing a disposal with those characteristics selected. The sites in the group found could then be plotted geographically to test for broad disposal patterns.

Notes on Location Codes

The location codes describe the general location of the disposal. Sites have been divided between 'open' and 'occupation' sites for the purpose of indicating disposal location. Occupation sites comprise sites whose purpose was to provide a place to live, however transitory. These may have been large and complex settlement sites such as those of the later hill-forts, or apparently isolated hut sites, or an apparent living area identified by scatters of domestic refuse or refuse pits, without surviving evidence of structure. On such sites disposal may take place in a deliberate deposition, or human remains may be found in no apparent deliberate deposition context. These sites may be referred to as occupation or settlement sites in the sections.

'Open' sites are neither occupation nor settlement sites, with the inference that they are set in open countryside, away from settlement sites. They are either a construction to hold a deliberate deposition of human remains (and may be elaborate like chambered tombs, or simple like an isolated grave), or are the locations for such disposals with no apparent deliberately constructed holding feature for remains.

These distinctions between site types have worked reasonably well, although they may be criticised where excavation has been limited, and where therefore (for example) a small open site might have proved to have been a settlement had the surrounds been explored more. It may also be the case that what appears to be traces of an occupation site is merely accidental, and does not justify the designation. The evidence is, however, full of such possible lacunae and possibilities for misinterpretation.

The co-incidence of disposals within each period has been coded. Where more than one disposal exists, it has been broadly compared with the others in the same period on the site for general similarity of the major characteristics, and the location noted as containing either multiple similar disposals or multiple varied disposals. 'Communal burial' is interpreted by this research as denoting instances where more than one disposal is set down, either in one event or in successive events. The disposals in either case may be physically associated (as in chambered tombs), or may be grouped but in separate graves (as inhumations and cremations in round barrows or flat cemeteries). The successive events may be chronologically close, or separated by hundreds of years within one period. Communal burial has a broader application than burial in a common grave by a community of one period. It extends to embrace the concept of a community of locality, where many generations later an earlier disposal site might be reused for burial. The point of broadening the scope of the term in this research is to allow the concept of continuing use of sites to be identified, rather than to focus on the particular communal burial tendencies of one group in one place in one period. This places as much emphasis on the notion of the continuity of social co-burial on a site as on the burial of one social group together.

Notes on Monument codes

These codes record the extent to which the site of disposal possessed characteristics connoting ideas of monumental status in the community. The degree to which the site might be considered a monument by the community might be determined primarily by its visibility, the extent to which it was used by later generations, and the degree to which it was redesigned, extended or rebuilt over time. No attempt is made to designate each disposal site as a monument or not, however. What is attempted is to discern, by coding, the proportions of sites (see Tables) with certain features of monumentality. The intermingling of non-disposal settlement life with disposal activity at such sites as 1198 Danebury makes the site a monument, even if the local environment is very different from that of a long barrow two millennia earlier. The term monument may therefore in this research cover a wide range of sites, even though many possess the less dramatic characteristics.

An example of this point is use of the term 'visibility'. A disposal site is considered to be easily visible if its outward form would have made an impact on the local landscape. The term visible might be applied to a mound, wherever located, to a flat cemetery, or to structures such as henges, all of which would have been built to be seen, or whose existence was not concealed. It is possible that sites coded as not visible in their present state of survival might have been marked out by posts or other structures, but we cannot know. 'Visibility' therefore is a characteristic of sites whose physical structure as currently preserved implies that the site could be easily seen, often from a great distance where the sight line was not impeded.

Notes on Processes of disposal codes

These processes contain pieces of evidence which can contribute to modelling and patterning of behaviour over the 4300 calendar years under study. They must be captured in some detail, since the elements of importance may only appear through their examination in various combinations over time and space. The processes are subdivided into eleven aspects.


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