Proposition 6

that the prehistoric population may have been segmented through prehistory into groups and individuals with different statuses, and these segments may have been disposed of according to distinct burial rites through much of prehistory.

The late 1990s idea of 'status', which usually connotes ideas of high social standing, is a relatively narrow interpretation of the term used in this proposition. Every individual has a status in life, sometimes several, which derive from social, personal, economic and occupational standing, and sometimes, when they die, from the circumstances of death (see Section 8). Some of these statuses may be detectable in the archaeological record, but it is seldom easy. Evidence which might seem to be an obvious indicator nowadays of one status or another has to be treated cautiously. Application of so-called common sense to disposal characteristics (for example the argument that (1) goods of excellence with a disposal mean the individual was wealthy, (2) wealth implies possession also of a leadership role, therefore (3) the individual with associated goods of excellence was a leader), may be seen to be logically imperfect. Some poor people do possess rich heirlooms which may be buried with them, some rich grave goods may be deposited as symbols of community wealth (and not be the possession of the deceased), wealthy people are not always leaders, and leadership in a community is not all derived from the possession of wealth. It is also the case that non-wealth objects deposited with burials may have powerful status meanings: the field of symbolism is wide.

Therefore the search must be among the various kinds of evidence for indications of segmentation or layering of society (social classes), for special groupings (kin and occupation), for leadership statuses focused on political, spiritual, and economic roles, for other special statuses deriving from age, general influence, craft or occupation skills, and other circumstances such as exclusion from the societal norm (slaves, captives, and those dying in unfavoured circumstances), or states of non-entry or partial entry into the societal norm (such as foetal, infant, or very young child deaths, where a society may have had initiation rites at puberty from which these individuals had been excluded). The first hypothesis states that:

This hypothesis will be tested by taking the three identified burial types (single disposals, multiple similar disposals, and multiple varied disposals), and examining for significance any difference between them in the association of certain burial characteristics. The general testing scheme is shown in Table 9.5-1. It excludes death type (as a characteristic seldom notable in the record), placing of deposit (already identified as not a helpful characteristic in the form recorded), and orientation (treated later). It focuses on characteristics often found helpful in identifying status in the burial record, but not unique to addressing the problem.

Figure 9.5-1: Burial characteristics often used to test status
Model showing features present in burial record

The research has already identified differences between the single disposal sites/multiple varied disposal sites and the multiple similar disposal sites in respect of ritual, the former pair having more surviving evidence for ritual activity in general than the latter type (Section 6). Since this feature shows that some sites received more disposal process attention than others, it is thought worth testing the site types further to see if there are other differences of association which might be related, and perhaps support or disprove the hypothesis. The associations chosen include characteristics which might indicate higher status (grave goods of excellence and high site visibility), those which might be of middling or neutral status (personal craft tools, personal utensils, and tokenism) and those possibly of low status (no grave goods at all). The characteristic of visibility is also combined in dual associations with goods of excellence, personal utensils, and personal craft tools in an attempt at more sensitive tests. As domestic refuse (probably) and the deposition of animal bone (possibly) may be significant, this is tested by itself, and then also in combination with visibility to see whether any correlations exist.

Figures in the tables are percentages, except for the first set which totals all sites. It should be remembered that the percentages reflect incidence of a characteristic (the recording of at least one occurrence of the characteristic on a site) and not a count of all the individual occurrences.

2500131550 34381829271921131524
Table 9.5-2: Comparison of site types for presence of site visibility, existence of grave goods of excellence, and personal craft tools
MS=multiple similar disposals, S=single disposals, MV=multiple varied disposals
100 56334291176189017
Table 9.5-3: Comparison of site types for presence of personal utensils, association of both visibility and grave goods of excellence, and association of both visibility and personal utensils

The tables appear to show that there is a hierarchy in the rate of incidence which broadly holds in both single and dual associations. The multiple varied disposal sites show the highest incidences of all characteristics fairly consistently through prehistory, followed by the single disposal sites, and then the multiple similar sites. There are a few slight variations in the tables, the more notable being the much lower incidence of visible single disposal sites in 3500-2500bc, the similar visibility/excellence incidence of single and multiple varied disposals in 2500-14/1300bc, and the higher performance of multiple similar disposal sites in the same period (but still ranking third). A major variation occurs, however, in the final period 100bc-AD43. Then the multiple similar sites move to a comfortable second position in most single associations (indeed take first place in incidence of personal utensil associations), and in all dual associations. There are other significant points that emerge from the tables which are relevant to later hypotheses and these will be discussed below.

Next, the respective incidence of domestic refuse and animal bone deposits with a disposal was examined among the three site types, and related to monument visibility. Animal bone includes part animals and whole animals (the latter very rare). The purpose was to see if this more commonly available material was evenly distributed, or whether it appeared on one type of site more frequently. The test was devised on a subordinate hypothesis that the multiple similar disposal sites were beginning to appear to be lower hierarchy sites, possibly reflecting a societal division (less visible, less incidence of deposits of goods of excellence and of the more personal varieties). If this were true, then more common material with perhaps an equivalent symbolic meaning might be found on them, as a substitute for goods less accessible to others.

Table 9.5-4: Comparison of site types for presence of domestic refuse, association of both visibility and domestic refuse, animal bone, and association of both visibility and animal bone

The tables have a number of interesting features. Single disposals appear to have least incidence of domestic refuse deposits in all periods, and have the lowest percentage of incidence of animal bone deposits in four of the five periods (two low spots are shared with multiple similar sites). Multiple varied disposal sites continue to have the highest rates for both deposits. When visibility of the monument is combined with each of the two characteristics, then the multiple similar sites take second place in every period. This may also be evidence for different group treatment on these sites.

There are some other notable variations within Tables 9.5-2/3/4. The fall in domestic refuse and animal bone deposits over 2500-14/1300bc has a parallel increase in deposits of goods of excellence and personal goods (craft, utensils) in the same period. Both are at low levels in 14/1300-8/700bc. This might be further evidence for supposing that domestic refuse had the same generic purpose in deposition as other types of good through prehistory, deposition patterns being varied by social or economic circumstances, or conceivably by belief systems stemming from these. It is relevant here also to mention the rarity with which goods of excellence occur in combination with domestic refuse (Section 6), suggesting that they might be alternates, depending on the social class.

A very heavy percentage of sites in every period and area contains incidence of disposals with no accompanying grave goods (Tables 271-300). The overall high-level picture presented by Table 296 shows that the percentages of incidence of non-occurrence run through the five periods 3500bc-AD43 thus: 56-61-87-75-49, averaging at 64% overall. Another subordinate hypothesis was therefore tested that suggested that if the multiple similar disposal sites were those on which a socially lower group were disposed, then such sites might be expected to have higher percentages of non-incidence of grave goods than the other two. At the same time tests were done for token deposits, and for items of personal decor, on the subordinate hypotheses that token deposits might show as neutral across all site types since they had no obvious status, and that personal decor items again should follow the general ascending deposition hierarchy of MS-S-MV (as with goods of excellence) since they might reflect status.

Table 9.5-5: Comparison of site types for non-existence of grave goods, for token burial deposits, and for items of personal decor

On the personal decor items, as hypothesised, the general pattern follows very much that of goods of excellence and other personal items, including the 100bc-AD43 variation seen before. The results for associated grave goods absence may be of some significance: they show that the multiple similar disposal sites have higher levels of absence than do the single disposal sites in every period. The multiple similar disposal sites also have higher levels of absence than multiple varied disposal sites in two periods, being lower in two and equal in the other. Given its respective low rankings in all the other characteristics so far, this high ranking for absence of goods does suggest that the multiple similar disposal site might be the focus for a particular social group, and more probably one lower in the social stratum. Correspondingly, from the same evidence it might be argued that the multiple varied disposal sites are at the higher end of the social spectrum, the richness of ritual activity being complemented for the most part by higher incidence of deposition and monument characteristics of a kind suggesting a societal group to which more elaborate disposal attention was given.

If the figures for tokenism are taken in the context of the patterns of incidence for the other characteristics reviewed, then the hypothesised 'neutral' state is not perfectly represented, but is close. The range of incidence of tokenism in the matrix is comparatively narrow at 2-19%, and the difference between the three disposal site types is not wide in many periods. This could suggest that the characteristic may not have been a feature denoting status, but might be a feature of any status. The multiple varied disposal still leads in incidence (except in 8/700-100bc), and if the three highest percentages of that site type are excluded, the range in the remaining twelve cells narrows to 2-9%. Given the very wide percentage ranges in each of the other sets in the other tables, tokenism may have been less an indicator of status but perhaps a process associated with another symbolic intention which was applied at any disposal location.

The above tests have concentrated on discovering whether the disposal evidence exists to support that part of the hypothesis positing that society was segmented in prehistory. The tests used certain deposition and monument data judged to be most useful indicators of social strata, in combination, across three site types used in earlier high-level analyses. It has been noted before that the definition of the two multiple disposal site types could predetermine the results of any analysis using them as the framework. The sites with multiple disposals set down with a variety of different characteristics are likely to be those rich in ritual and goods (hence the 'varied' type), and the sites with multiple disposals treated the same will probably contain the simpler depositions, offering less likelihood of variety in any case. This is to presume on the criteria for classification. There may be a variety of simple disposals on a multiple varied disposal site, just as there may be a group of similar elaborate disposals on a multiple similar site. The classification was based on qualities of general similarity and general variety within the individual site, and not on the detailed components.

It is, however, these detailed components which have been analysed in the above tables, and they appear to indicate that there are genuine qualitative differences of a general societal kind evidenced by the two site types. The outcome so far suggests that there were at least two major segments of society through the period 3500-100bc, if the disposal record is any indicator. One, from its modest and generally simpler disposal process, may have been a lower segment, the other, from its more well-endowed and more varied ritual nature, may have been a higher segment. This latter segment may have included in its disposal site members of society belonging to the lower segment, but entitled to burial association with the higher segment through some societal link. The existence of single disposal sites with characteristics more in alignment in terms of symbols of status with the multiple disposal sites of the higher segment raises need not imply another societal group, but it might. It is just one other possible indicator of other societal groups and statuses throughout prehistoric society, and is discussed below.

The period 100bc-AD43 exhibits a marked change, however. If the test indicators of status are accepted, then it seems as if another societal group emerged in that period, expressed in the multiple similar disposals, which added to uniformity an increase in both the incidence of goods deposited and in their incidence as status objects. The single disposals also underwent a revival in terms of goods of excellence and personal decor, but in other respects their physical and other status signs did not change much. These points may be significant, and possibly relate to the nature of the increasing interaction between southern Britain and the Continent in that period.

Whether there are further indicators of societal segments, groups, types or even special individuals requires more sensitive individual deposition analysis than there is space for here, and than the coded record allows. It is nonetheless possible to make some general observations from Tables 9.5-2/3/4/5:

These general statements on either subsets of societal structure or cross-sections of society find their support in the detailed evidence of Section 6 and the Gazetteer references. It must be said that while such examples exist, they are little more than indicative of what might have been the whole, so little has survived generally. They might be representative, but it is impossible to state that they are with certainty.

Proposition 6 states that the prehistoric population may have been segmented through prehistory into groups and individuals with different statuses, and these segments may have been disposed of according to distinct burial rites through much of prehistory. The supporting hypothesis set out to provide a testing ground that sought evidence for distinctly different treatments of individuals or groups in terms of relevant characteristics recorded in the research, on the assumption that this would provide some indicators of disposal behaviour oriented to status. The characteristics were refined and several subordinate hypotheses were devised and tested to cross-check results. These tests were concerned with identifying broad societal divisions through different status-bearing grave good deposits. The evidence resulting suggests that such divisions into strata of higher and lower socio-economic status groups indeed could have existed.

A less structured examination of the potential for subsets of these strata, or for specialist groups crossing strata boundaries, was carried out by a review of the narrative evidence of Section 6. There were examples of some of these groups as represented in grave good associations in every period, there were credible but not indisputable examples of even more, and there were some rather tendentious examples of the rest.

The main problem with judging the results of testing the hypothesis is whether the method used may be flawed. Tests were approached through one aspect of the burial rite (one part of the proposition that the hypothesis was designed to test), and assumptions about distinctiveness were made that in due course produced evidence for societal strata. Were the data used in the tests self-fulfilling? Some burial characteristics were chosen for their commonly perceived usefulness in other similar (anthropological and archaeological) exercises on status differentiation in disposal rites, and by definition were distinctive. Others were chosen as neutral or possibly ambivalent characteristics, with test outcomes hypothesised. All characteristics form part of a larger burial rite, in which many characteristics have a part, but in which much may prove to be common from the broader evidence.

If the methods for testing the main hypothesis, one structured and one less so, are accepted as valid, then Proposition 6 would seem to have support. However, disposal evidence is just one base from which to conduct such tests, and is full of symbolism sometimes even of reverse import from the surviving physical form. Further evidence from tests on other hypotheses would be useful to confirm or contradict this particular finding.


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