Proposition 1

that a variety of means of disposal of the dead existed through prehistory

The evidence for disposal characteristics and location described in Section 4 illustrates a continuous variety of means of disposal through prehistory. There are variations through time in the intensity of use of certain types of location, disposal process, disposal mode and container, and also in the tendency of the south west, south and south east areas each to move in a slightly different rhythm, the south with less volatility, indeed as if it were on the fulcrum. It is very seldom, however, that a characteristic totally disappears from the disposal picture, except in those types of burial container that were from the outset less common (see 4.16). Disposals were made with grave goods and without (the latter apparently much more common through prehistory), neither sex apparently being favoured because of sex per se. Grave goods most commonly and consistently set down were those for personal decor, personal craft or occupation, personal utensils and domestic refuse and animal bone, goods of excellence coming next. Both sexes could have similar types of grave good, although some male:female bias is discernible in some periods' associations.

Inasmuch as 'normative rites' may be thought to exist at times, and assuming the conventional definition to relate to the disposal method of cremation or inhumation, then the evidence suggests that the conventional understanding of the Neolithic-Bronze Age-Iron Age timewave pattern of inhumation-cremation-inhumation is disturbed in two significant ways. It has become clear that both methods are significantly present (even on the same site) at all times, and that there is some evidence for pre-disposal phases of treatment of the body (such as excarnation) even in periods when cremation is prominent. This suggests that the societies in southern Britain did not move quite so radically between two methods of ultimate disposal as may have been hitherto commonly assumed. Secondly, the three areas show differences in the broad patterns of incidence of disposal methods, and the areas are by no means uniform through prehistory, some moving in advance of others in their changes, although within very long timespans.

However, taking a broader look at the definition of a normative rite, then it may be suggested that, in the round, no normative rite in the conventionally understood sense existed through prehistory, such is the breadth of variety of form visible in the burial record described in Section 4. Understanding of the term may have been focused on one or two prominent specifics of archaeological evidence, and the wider context should be cited before any formulation of normative rite is suggested. It may now be the case that a formulation designed to embrace a much larger number of disposal characteristics is needed. It seems from the surviving evidence that the visible form of disposal method and practice is, beneath the simple criterion of inhumation and cremation, much more varied in form and association. This may not, however, be taken to imply that the intent and meaning of the processes were varied at one time, or over time. The form expresses some meaning for society, but how unified and whether changing is a key issue.

The general hypothesis seems well supported, and proposition 1 appears valid.


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