Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"An Early Beaker Funerary Monument at Porton Down" (Andrews and Thompson, 2016)

The woman in the second graphic (grave 5171, body 5224) was buried in the center of a 15m, segmented ring-ditch, also representing the oldest of subsequent inhumations.  Her N-S timber grave appears to have been reopened on a number of occasions and she is surrounded by 8-12 individuals, 8 graves and 4 cremations.

The Bell Beaker woman, who died in her forties, is later joined over the next 400 years by these 12 infants or infants and young mothers with Bronze Age Food Vessels and Collared Urns.

From Plate 2 Early Beaker/Early Bronze Age burial group 5225: grave 5110 "teenage girl looking at her infant" (Andrews & Thompson, 2016)
From the paper:

"The Beaker from grave 5171 is of Clarke’s Wessex/Middle Rhine type, with all-over horizontal comb impressions. The vessel from ditch 5229 has a more pronounced  globular shape and is decorated with very abraded impressions which may be either cord approximating to the barbed wire technique, or alternatively fishbone impressions  (Salanova 2001, 92, fig. 2:3)."  (Matt Leivers)
"The evidence suggests intentional revisitation and manipulation of the remains once the corpse had become fully skeletalised, as well as potential curation of specific elements. The manipulation, removal and curation of human remains are recognised phenomena in Early Bronze Age contexts, for example at Amesbury Down, though potential purposes and processes are varied and complex (McKinley forthcoming a)." (Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy)
"The two measureable Early Bronze Age skulls fell within the brachycranic range (82.05, SD 1.77) reflecting the general broad/round headed pattern for the period (Brothwell 1973, Abb. 65) and parts of the local population (Amesbury and Rollestone Down; McKinley forthcoming a)."  (Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy)
From Plate 1 Early Beaker/Early Bronze Age burial group 5225: central grave 5171 (Andrews & Thompson, 2016)

At the eastern head of this woman's ring ditch is a large hole that might have held something organic.  The authors speculate it might have held a large post or cenotaph.  Adjacent to this woman's ring ditch is a weird C-shaped monument, roughly the same size. 

What's fascinating is that the babies and young mothers who were buried within this woman's ring ditch were spread across many generations, so they weren't meaningfully related.  This means that for over 400 years the local people knew of this woman's grave and they knew that this was a place to bury babies or babies with young mothers.  Aside from the radiocarbon dates, the pottery also illustrates this story.

Therefore, the only rational conclusion would seem that the people who buried infants in this location did so with the intent to bury an infant or infant and mother with this older Beaker woman that had died, probably, two to three centuries prior.

I've wondered if Bronze Age people were especially frightened when children died for what lied ahead [here].   A small child, teen or other incompetent would be exposed to the same tricksters and riddle-speakers as the other dead, not to mention the pass/fail tests of amoral gods.  It could be that clustering graves around this woman was a kind of chaperoning, having been summoned in some sort of seance using her often disturbed bones.  Being the sole occupant of a ring ditch would seem that she was of some importance, and for whatever reason, a good person to receive small children.  

"An Early Beaker funerary monument at Porton Down, Wiltshire"
by Phil Andrews and Steve Thompson with contributions by Alistair J. Barclay, Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy, Michael J. Grant, Phil Harding, L. Higbee, Matt Leivers, Jacqueline I. McKinley, Lorraine Mepham and Sarah F. Wyles. Illustrations by S.E. James.  Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine, vol. 109 (2016), pp. 38-82

"Excavation of an Early Beaker−Early Bronze Age funerary monument at Porton Down revealed an unusually complex burial sequence of 12 individuals, spanning four centuries, including eight neonates or infants and only one probable male, surrounded by a segmented ring-ditch. In the centre was a large grave which contained the disturbed remains of an adult female, accompanied by a Beaker, which had probably been placed within a timber chamber and later ‘revisited’ on one or more occasions. This primary  burial and an antler pick from the base of the ring-ditch provided identical Early Beaker radiocarbon dates. Two burials were accompanied by a Food Vessel and a miniature Collared Urn respectively, others were unaccompanied, and there was a single and a double cremation burial, both within inverted Collared Urns.  A C-shaped enclosure nearby may have been contemporary with the funerary monument, but its date and  function are uncertain. Other features included an Early Neolithic pit which contained a significant assemblage of worked flint, and several Middle Bronze Age ditches and a Late Bronze Age ‘Wessex Linear’ ditch that reflect later prehistoric land divisions  probably related to stock control."

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