Friday, November 28, 2014

Mound of Hostages - Tomb Re-Use

Here's a theory about megalithic tomb reuse that Quinn argues can be backed with one site's solid chronological evidence.

The abstract tells us about 90% of what we want to know.  I'll let university on-line library administrators figure out the details.

The Mound of Hostages (photo Rob Hurson)

Previously, I posted a paper by Jeunesse [here] that seemingly busted the myth that Bell Beaker burials in the Southwest largely maintained the collective megalithic tradition while those in Central Europe were largely individual burials.  He showed this to be demonstratively false as the vast majority of Beaker burials in any region are small plot, individual inhumations.

Both Bell Beaker and Corded Ware people re-used Megalithic tombs to a similar degree according to Jeunesse. Does this reflect continuity, imitation, awe, privilege?

Quinn suggests that the evidence shows another force is at play.  It is precisely because they were intruders that Quinn suggests they temporarily established in abandoned tombs.  (Yes I got all that from the abstract)

This makes sense to me.  The Normans and Anglo-Saxons exhibited similar behaviors when they invaded England.  The object is to convince the poor, unwashed people whose lives suck that the new predatory lords have ancient rights and privileges by virtue of their noble births.  Demonstrating this includes prominent burials in ancient abbeys, assumption of native arms, claims of descent from ancient native kings, and co-opting symbols of ancient power.

I think the chronology of most Megalithic sites will show similar behaviors.


Archaeologists studying multi-component cemeteries have argued that the societies who reused cemeteries were motivated by connecting to the past. However, often overlooked are the potential roles of mortuary events and sites as key social and political venues for creating, contesting, and unmaking relationships and identities for the later community independent of a connection to the past. In this paper, I explore the social and political roles that mortuary rituals at the Mound of the Hostages, Tara, Ireland played during the Middle Neolithic (3350–2800 BC) and Early Bronze Age (2300–1700 BC).
Tara’s emergence as a regional mortuary center occurred only several hundred years after its initial reuse by Early Bronze Age peoples. Just as importantly, the burial activity that marked Tara as special in the Early Bronze Age was very brief, revealing that the regional centralization at Tara was ultimately unsuccessful. The analysis of cemetery formation at Tara is only possible due to the development of a fine-grained site specific chronology. These results have broad implications for how we understand cemetery formation, the reuse of mortuary monuments, and the dynamics of social complexity in prehistoric societies.

Returning and reuse: Diachronic perspectives on multi-   component cemeteries and mortuary politics at Middle Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Tara, Ireland.  Journal of Anthropological Archaeology Volume 37, March 2015, Pages 1–18, Colin P. Quinn, 2014 [Link]

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