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Barrows

  • O. G. S. Crawford
Extract

The fascination of Archaeology consists in reconstructing the life of the past, but by a curious paradox we obtain most of our raw material from the graves of the dead. We profit by the superstition which ordained that the dead man should be supplied with tools and weapons, and the dead woman with ornaments, to accompany them to the land of shadows. We profit also by the conservative instinct which regulated the construction of the tomb and the accompanying ritual. Nothing changes so slowly as burial-customs, even in these radical times. In all essentials the modern funeral procession remains Victorian in its gloomy respectability, its tawdry finery, and its obsolete methods of transport.

The origin of barrow-making being unknown, one is free to speculate without the risk of being upset by evidence. The earliest deliberate burials occurred in the Mousterian period, in caves; and although connecting links are not numerous, one cannot help feeling that the natural cave must have been the ancestor of the megalithic passage-grave. In all essentials the cave and the passage-grave are the same; the 'points' so to speak, of a habitation cave are (I) the ground in front of the mouth, ( 2 ) the mouth, and (3) the dark, little used interior. Of these the mouth was the most important, and was often walled off; and it is natural to suppose that the darker recesses were used for sleeping in at night. These three features correspond fairly well with the typical arrangement of a passage-grave ; and if the houses of the dead were modelled upon those of the living, as is usually supposed, there may be some truth in this suggested evolution ; but there are many difficulties. However this may be, megalithic burial-places were very often—and always in our country—covered with mounds of earth or, in stony country, cairns of stone : they were in fact the first barrows ; so we must consider them. The subject is a very thorny one, and in order to avoid being drawn into argument, I shall avoid problems and keep to a description of facts. The title of this paper suggests that geographical and ethnographical deductions may for once be given second place.

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1 Place-names of Berkshire, 1911, p. 31.

2 Buckinghamshire Place-names (English Place-name Society, vol.2, Cambridge, 1925), p.14.

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Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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