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Iron Age burial in southern Britain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 May 2014

Rowan Whimster
Committee for Aerial Photography, University of Cambridge


Over 45 years have now elapsed since attention was first drawn to an apparent paucity of pre-Roman Iron Age funerary sites in southern Britain (Hawkes and Dunning 1930). This remarkable lacuna, contrasting with a wealth of Bronze Age burial forms, received little further attention until Hodson defined an absence of burials as a ‘negative type-fossil’ of his insular and otherwise prolific Woodbury Culture and emphasized the cultural implications of this uncomfortable gap in the archaeological record (Hodson 1964). With the exception of supposedly intrusive continental disposal forms in restricted areas of Yorkshire and south-eastern England and a third rather hazy rite from the extreme south-west, the British Iron Age was characterized by an embarrassingly invisible method of disposal that could neither be compared nor contrasted with contemporary continental traditions. Although efforts have been made to explain this absence in terms of hypothetical practices that would leave no archaeologically recognizable traces, there have been few attempts to consider in detail the scattered references to human remains that have slowly accumulated in the literature. A reconsideration of this evidence in the light of more recently excavated material suggests that the dearth of funerary remains is to an extent illusory and that further distinctive disposal rituals can now be added to those already recognized. It is also apparent that certain shared characteristics may force a general reconsideration of the origins of these different rites.

Research Article
Copyright © The Prehistoric Society 1977

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