Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Death is not the end: radiocarbon and histo-taphonomic evidence for the curation and excarnation of human remains in Bronze Age Britain

  • Thomas J. Booth (a1) and Joanna Brück (a2)

Abstract

Cremated and unburnt human remains have been recovered from a variety of British Bronze and earliest Iron Age archaeological contexts (c. 2500–600 BC). Chronological modelling of 189 new and extant radiocarbon dates from a selection of these deposits provides evidence for the curation of human remains for an average of two generations following death, while histological analysis of bone samples indicates mortuary treatment involving both excarnation and the exhumation of primary burials. Curated bones came from people who had been alive within living or cultural memory, and their power probably derived from relationships between the living and the dead.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Death is not the end: radiocarbon and histo-taphonomic evidence for the curation and excarnation of human remains in Bronze Age Britain
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Death is not the end: radiocarbon and histo-taphonomic evidence for the curation and excarnation of human remains in Bronze Age Britain
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Death is not the end: radiocarbon and histo-taphonomic evidence for the curation and excarnation of human remains in Bronze Age Britain
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

Corresponding author

*Author for correspondence: ✉ thomas.booth@crick.ac.uk

References

Hide All
Annis, R. et al. 1997. An unusual group of Early Bronze Age burials from Windmill Fields, Ingleby Barwick, Stockton-on-Tees. Unpublished report, Tees Archaeology.
Appleby, J. 2013. Temporality and the transition to cremation in the late third millennium to mid second millennium BC in Britain. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 23: 8397. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774313000061
Armit, I. 2012. Headhunting and the body in Iron Age Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139016971
Armit, I. & Ginn, V.. 2007. Beyond the grave: human remains from domestic contexts in Iron Age Atlantic Scotland. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 73: 113–34. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0079497X00000074
Booth, T.J. 2016. An investigation into the relationship between funerary treatment and bacterial bioerosion in European archaeological human bone: funerary treatment and bacterial bioerosion in human bone. Archaeometry 58: 484–99. https://doi.org/10.1111/arcm.12190
Booth, T.J. & Madgwick, R.. 2016. New evidence for diverse secondary burial practices in Iron Age Britain: a histological case study. Journal of Archaeological Science 67: 1424. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2016.01.010
Booth, T.J., Chamberlain, A.T. & Pearson, M. Parker. 2015. Mummification in Bronze Age Britain. Antiquity 89: 1155–73. https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2015.111
Bronk Ramsey, C. 2009. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51: 337–60. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033822200033865
Brück, J. 1995. A place for the dead: the role of human remains in Late Bronze Age Britain. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 61: 245–77. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0079497X00003091
Brück, J. 1999. Houses, lifecycles and deposition on Middle Bronze Age settlements in southern England. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 65: 145–66. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0079497X00001973
Brück, J. 2004. Material metaphors: the relational construction of identity in Early Bronze Age burials in Ireland and Britain. Journal of Social Archaeology 4: 307–33. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469605304046417
Brück, J. 2006. Fragmentation, personhood and the social construction of technology in Middle and Late Bronze Age Britain. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 16: 297315. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774306000187
Brück, J. 2009. Women, death and social change in the British Bronze Age. Norwegian Archaeological Review 42: 123.10.1080/00293650902907151
Brück, J. 2019. Personifying prehistory: relational ontologies in Bronze Age Britain and Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Carr, G. & Knüsel, C.. 1997. The ritual framework of excarnation by exposure as the mortuary practice of the Early and Middle Iron Ages of central southern Britain, in Gwilt, A. & Hazelgrove, C. (ed.) Reconstructing Iron Age societies: new approaches to the British Iron Age: 167–73. Oxford: Oxbow.
Caswell, E. & Roberts, B.W.. 2018. Reassessing community cemeteries: cremation burials in Britain during the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1600–1150 cal BC). Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 84: 329–57. https://doi.org/10.1017/ppr.2018.9
Ellison, A. 1980. Deverel-Rimbury urn cemeteries: the evidence for social organisation, in Barrett, J. & Bradley, R. (ed.) Settlement and society in the British Later Bronze Age (British Archaeological Reports 83): 115–26. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
Evans, C., Patten, R., Brudenell, M. & Taylor, M.. 2011. An inland Bronze Age: excavations at Striplands Farm, West Longstanton. Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 100: 745.
Fisher, J.W. 1995. Bone surface modifications in zooarchaeology. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 2: 768. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02228434
Fowler, C. 2010. Pattern and diversity in the Early Neolithic mortuary practices of Britain and Ireland: contextualising the treatment of the dead. Documenta Praehistorica 37: 122. https://doi.org/10.4312/dp.37.1
Fowler, C. 2013. The emergent past: a relational realist archaeology of Early Bronze Age mortuary practices. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gibson, A. 2004. Burials and Beakers: seeing beneath the veneer in Late Neolithic Britain, in Czebrezuk, A. (ed.) Similar but different: Bell Beakers in Europe: 173–92. Poznan: Adam Mickiewicz University.
Harding, J. & Healy, F.. 2013. A Neolithic and Bronze Age landscape in Northamptonshire: the Raunds area project. Swindon: English Heritage. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvxcr8r1
Haslett, J. & Parnell, A.. 2008. A simple monotone process with application to radiocarbon-dated depth chronologies. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series C (Applied Statistics) 57: 399418. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9876.2008.00623.x
Hedges, R.E.M., Millard, A.R. & Pike, A.W.G.. 1995. Measurements and relationships of diagenetic alteration of bone from three archaeological sites. Journal of Archaeological Science 22: 201209. https://doi.org/10.1006/jasc.1995.0022
Hunter, J. & Woodward, A.. 2015. Ritual in Early Bronze Age grave goods: an examination of ritual and dress equipment from Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age graves in England. Oxford: Oxbow.
Jans, M.M.E., Nielsen-Marsh, C.M., Smith, C.I., Collins, M.J. & Kars, H.. 2004. Characterisation of microbial attack on archaeological bone. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 8795. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2003.07.007
Jones, A.M. 2002. A biography of colour: colour, material histories and personhood in the Early Bronze Age of Britain and Ireland, in Jones, A. & MacGregor, G. (ed.) Colouring the past: the significance of colour in archaeological research: 159–74. Oxford: Berg.
Knight, M. 2019. Doubtful associations? Assessing Bronze Age ‘multi-period’ hoards from northern England, Scotland and Wales, in Knight, M., Boughton, D. & Wilkinson, R. (ed.) Objects of the past in the past: investigating the significance of earlier artefacts in later contexts: 1941. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Lanting, J. & van der Plicht, J.. 1998. Reservoir effects and apparent 14C-ages. Journal of Irish Archaeology 9: 151–65.
Millard, A.R. 2001. The deterioration of bone, in Brothwell, D. & Pollard, A.M. (ed.) Handbook of archaeological sciences: 637–47. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
Nielsen-Marsh, C.M., Smith, C.I., Jans, M.M.E., Nord, A., Kars, H. & Collins, M.J.. 2007. Bone diagenesis in the European Holocene II: taphonomic and environmental considerations. Journal of Archaeological Science 34: 1523–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2006.11.012
Olsen, J., Heinemeier, J., Hornstrup, K.M., Bennike, P. & Thrane, H.. 2013. ‘Old wood’ effect in radiocarbon dating of prehistoric cremated bones? Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 3034. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2012.05.034
Parker Pearson, M. et al. 2005. Evidence for mummification in Bronze Age Britain. Antiquity 79: 529–46. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/s0003598×00114486
Parker Pearson, M. et al. 2016. Beaker people in Britain: migration, mobility and diet. Antiquity 90: 620–37. https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2016.72
Patten, R. 2004. Bronze Age and Romano-British activity at Eye Quarry, Peterborough Phase 3. Unpublished report, Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
Petersen, F. 1972. Traditions of multiple burial in later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age England. Archaeological Journal 129: 2255. https://doi.org/10.1080/00665983.1972.11020314
R Core Team. 2013. R: a language and environment for statistical computing. Available at https://www.r-project.org (accessed 6 July 2020).
Reimer, P.J. et al. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50 000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55: 1869–87. https://doi.org/10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16947
Sheridan, A., Davis, M., Clark, I. & Redvers-Jones, H.. 2002. Investigating jet and jet-like artefacts from prehistoric Scotland: the National Museums of Scotland project. Antiquity 76: 812–25. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00091298
Smith, M. 2006. Bones chewed by canids as evidence for human excarnation: a British case study. Antiquity 80: 671–85. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00094126
Smith, M. & Brickley, M.. 2009. People of the long barrows: life, death and burial in the earlier Neolithic. Stroud: The History Press.
Smith, M.J., Allen, M.J., Delbarre, G., Booth, T., Cheetham, P., Bailey, L., O'Malley, F., Pearson, M. Parker & Green, M.. 2016. Holding on to the past: southern British evidence for mummification and retention of the dead in the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10: 744–56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.05.034
Snoeck, C., Brock, F. & Schulting, R.J.. 2014. Carbon exchanges between bone apatite and fuels during cremation: impact on radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 56: 591602. https://doi.org/10.2458/56.17454
Sofaer Derevenski, J. 2002. Engendering context: context as gendered practice in the Early Bronze Age of the Upper Thames Valley, UK. European Journal of Archaeology 5: 191211. https://doi.org/10.1179/eja.2002.5.2.191
Turner-Walker, G. & Jans, M.. 2008. Reconstructing taphonomic histories using histological analysis. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 266: 227–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2008.03.024
Ward, G.K. & Wilson, S.R.. 1978. Procedures for comparing and combining radiocarbon age determinations: a critique. Archaeometry 20: 1931. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4754.1978.tb00208.x
Woodward, A. 2002. Beads and Beakers: heirlooms and relics in the British Early Bronze Age. Antiquity 76: 1040–47. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00091845
Wysocki, M. & Whittle, A.. 2000. Diversity, lifestyles and rites: new biological and archaeological evidence from British earlier Neolithic mortuary assemblages. Antiquity 74 : 591601. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00059950

Keywords

Type Description Title
UNKNOWN
Supplementary materials

Booth and Brück supplementary material
Booth and Brück supplementary material

 Unknown (9.6 MB)
9.6 MB

Death is not the end: radiocarbon and histo-taphonomic evidence for the curation and excarnation of human remains in Bronze Age Britain

  • Thomas J. Booth (a1) and Joanna Brück (a2)

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.