Proposition 8

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.

The evidence reviewed in Tables 9.5-2 to 9 may be referred to again here. Table 9.5-2 provides the first pieces of evidence in support of the hypothesis. If the elite class were indeed buried in the single or multiple varied disposal groups, then period by period there do appear to be changes in the patterns, taking the major characteristics identified. The first movements are between 3500-2500bc and 2500-14/1300bc, when goods of excellence rise in their percentage incidence of deposition. They rise for all disposal types (perhaps a more general indicator) but more sharply for single disposals (5-19%) and multiple varied disposals (10-21%). Indeed these two types are remarkably close in their incidence of goods of excellence over 2500-14/1300bc, and on very large numerical bases (550 and 343 sites respectively). They also run two to three times higher than the incidence on multiple similar sites (7%).

The single disposal sites also rise notably in percentage of incidence of visibility between the two periods (54-82%), to compare with the high rates of visibility of the other two site types. Between the same two periods the incidence of sites with both high visibility and goods of excellence increases for both single and multiple varied disposal types, again at a rate three times higher than the rise for the multiple similar disposal type sites. The increase is particularly marked for the single disposal sites (0-18%), but still steep for the multiple varied sites (10-18%). This could suggest that the elite were more frequently being buried in single graves alongside the tradition continuing of some members of the elite being buried in communal graves.

In connection with the last observation it is interesting to note that, alongside these significant changes, the incidence of deposition of personal craft tools and personal utensils (9.5-2/3) on both single and multiple varied disposal sites is within relatively narrow bands and in not dissimilar proportions, but that the single disposal sites show a considerable rise in deposits of personal decor items (9.5-5) compared with both multiple site types where the rise is slight. Similarly the single sites have higher rises of incidence when these deposits are combined with the visibility characteristic, compared with the two multiple site types. Thus within the broad change between periods already identified for disposals of the elite on the sites probably containing that class, there is an extension of practice to greater use of single disposal sites to hold elite disposals.

Following these two characteristics of visibility and goods of excellence into 14/1300-8/700bc, visibility of site declines a little, except for that of the multiple varied sites, and goods of excellence are rarely set down on any type of site, in a low even pattern of 2-3% incidence (9.5-2). This latter drop is very sharp, and is paralleled by the drop when visibility and goods of excellence are taken in combination of incidence (9.5-3). The numbers of all types of disposal site drop markedly from 2500-14/1300bc, but much less so in the multiple similar category (MS dropping from 131 to 90, S 550-128, and MV 343-65). The fall needs some explanation. There was more continuous use of disposal sites over these two periods than in others (Table 9.4-5), and it is also possible that some sites may be wrongly attributed to the earlier of the two periods and should be later. It is also possible that more disposals were being placed on each site, since cremation cemeteries with or without urned burials were at their peak. This would explain the site numbers dropping and could also correlate with higher continuity of site use from the previous period. It might also be that the period divisions chosen are too broad, and are distorting the picture (which still leaves attribution as a difficulty when long-lived pottery types have to be relied upon heavily).

The figures as they stand might imply that there were fewer locations at which the elite were deposited, as well as possibly a smaller elite class (fewer people to dispose of). It is conceivable that their disposal locations were sometimes also set elsewhere in this period, but there is scant evidence to support this possibility, and a danger that the diminished presence is misinterpreted. The multiple varied sites have generally the strongest evidence for elite disposals, the single disposal sites closely resembling the multiple similar sites in their different combinations of characteristic incidence. This runs through even to the deposition of animal bone and domestic refuse (Table 9.5-4), remarked upon earlier. The whole picture for the period, however, is one of apparent dramatic change for all classes in the subdued disposal ritual represented in the visible record, most of all for the elite class who seem to share the lower-key approach in disposal ritual.

It is the time, however, when urn burial and urnfield use are at their peaks (as remarked above), as is cremation whether urned or not, while the use of mounds is beginning to decline (Tables 416 and 176). Perhaps one answer may lie less in dramatic change in society's economy, social structure or beliefs, than in the destructive process of cremation, and in a rite which set the grave goods to be burnt with the body and transmitted by that disposal medium, rather than being set down for transmission by inhumation. There is some, but not extensive, disposal evidence for the practice of grave goods being destroyed in the pyre, but unfortunately the proposed solution may not be well-founded for two reasons. Firstly, the next period has a similar subdued pattern of grave good deposits when inhumation was noticeably the majority rite (the percentages reversing); and secondly, it cannot be assumed that the excellence of the grave goods deposit was a consistent symbol, or had a consistent meaning in every period. Indeed the evidence goes some way to oppose that assumption.

The only conclusion that may be safely reached on the change in disposal process between 2500-14/1300bc and 14/1300-8/700bc is that all classes seem to have undergone it. The visibility characteristic changed little on multiple varied sites, and those sites retained their prominence in the characteristics most associated with an elite class, albeit in lower profile. Inasmuch as the non-elite classes will have experienced a relatively less abrupt change, the elite class will have experienced a greater change.

The return of inhumation in 8/700-100bc as the more frequently encountered disposal method, and the pattern of associated deposition exposes the risks of simply attributing a dearth of grave goods to the use of fire as the disposal method. It is only on the multiple varied disposal sites that the goods of excellence, personal decor items, and personal craft goods return to figures close to the 2500-14/1300bc period's higher incidence. On the multiple similar and single disposal sites these three types remain at or near the relatively low levels of 14/1300-8/700bc (9.5-2/3/5). Perhaps more significantly, when the characteristic of visibility is combined with excellence, or personal craft tools, or personal utensils, and the results are compared to those of 14/1300-8/700bc, the general incidence is still very low. However, the multiple similar sites drop out of the picture completely, and the single disposal sites revive to figures comparable to those of the multiple varied.

There is a distinct change in the visibility of monuments compared to that of the previous period. For all three disposal site types visibility drops from a 74-92% incidence to a 20-30% band, but the elite class undergoes the same change as the rest. However, it is possible that, with the general changes in the use of the settlement and open sites for holding disposals over 3500bc-AD43, the visibility element may be a weaker discriminator in later periods (since settlement sites tend to have less visible disposal monuments (domestic refuse or storage pits being the common receptacle). It may therefore be useful to test the three types of sites with goods of excellence against the occupied and open locations, to see if the elite class sites appear to favour one location rather than the other (Codes 123 against 003, 004, 005 and 006 for each period).

800 007002021227
Table 9.5-10: Comparison of site types with goods of excellence on (1) occupied structured sites, (2) occupied non-structured sites, (3) open structured sites and (4) open non-structured sites

Single and multiple similar disposal sites with goods of excellence make no appearance on occupied sites until the last period, and then only in tiny percentages of incidence (1-2%). Multiple varied disposal sites with goods of excellence are also low in their incidence on occupied sites, but are found there in 2-8% incidence over 8/700bc-AD43, far higher than the rate of the other two types. It is, however, very clear from Table 9.5-10 that the open locations throughout prehistory hold the great majority of the elite class sites (assuming still that excellence of goods is a key indicator), and that the structured open locations in particular dominate in every period except 8/700-100bc. This period indeed seems to have other anomalies in that the occupied structured sites appear to occur in higher proportions than the open structured sites as locations for elite class disposal, and the non-structured open sites are the most frequent holders of elite disposals. In the last period there is a notable change back, and a resurgence in the use of open structured sites for elite disposals.

The results also suggest that the drop in monument visibility for the elite disposals may not have been so great proportionally through time, given that the majority of elite class disposals apparently were on the open structured sites in the later periods.

The final period of 100bc-AD43 sees the resurgence in the use of open structured sites just referred to, but also a steep rise in the incidence of elite disposals on multiple varied and multiple similar disposal sites, each rising to 15%. It is especially notable for the multiple similar sites which, for the first time in prehistory, appear to be the location for such disposals to such a high degree. The evidence may imply the clear emergence of a third (middle) class between the dominant elite class and the already implied subject class, or may simply indicate an alternative location for the elite disposal. Much depends on interpretation of the qualities of excellence and symbolic meaning of the goods. The evidence of the special studies, and the commentary in Section 6.24 suggests that a change in society's composition may indeed be taking place in this period, and that a new class is appearing more prominently in the burial record which possibly had its social origins in the last period. This would correlate with the increase in trade (if that is the source of the wealth) and other contacts with Continental Europe, which began late in the previous period and expanded greatly for the south east and south areas in the course of the period 100bc-AD43.

As far as the evidence allows, and using the two main criteria of site visibility and excellence of grave goods as main discriminators, the tests on the hypothesis have shown that the elite disposal rite did vary considerably through prehistory, even in the context of considerable general variation in disposal patterns through all five periods. The multiple varied sites appear to have varied less than the single disposal sites within the comparative pattern, and the open structured site appears to have been the consistently popular location for such disposals (correlating with the tendency for the elite disposal site to be more visible). The sudden emergence of the multiple similar disposal site as the location for an elite class in 100bc-AD43 perhaps should be interpreted in the broader context of the Continental transitional period and the developing relations between southern Britain and the Continent at that time. The nature of some grave goods on such sites in this period, although in absolute terms rating as having distinct signs of excellence compared with earlier periods, appear more characteristic given their monumental settings of an emergent prosperous class, but a class not necessarily elite by the definition used here.

Proposition 8 therefore appears to be supported by the evidence.


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