Friday, 26 April 2013

Grave Concerns: Bronze Age

The last Grave Concerns dealt with burial during the Bronze Age. All these subjects are huge, of course, so we can only scratch the surface.

We looked at crouched burials which had gradually replaced the communal tombs of the Neolithic. Dorset has many examples of round burial mounds dotted around the landscape and some of the early ones may be Beaker burials, after the distinctive pottery of the period:
Some mounds are standing alone, with others part of cemeteries

One of the most famous recent burials was the Amesbury Archer, found not far from Stonehenge, with several beakers, wrist guards, arrowheads and gold hair ornaments:

Two of the most famous barrows in the south west are the Clandon and Bush barrows, both of which had gold lozenge artefacts in them:
Bush Barrow

Clandon Barrow
Burial in the Bronze Age suggests a continuing change in emphasis toward the individual, with burial of wealthy individuals and children, some with apparently hereditary status. There may be a move toward concern with family and personal history rather than the power of the collective tribal ancestors, as previously.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Monuments & Memory

West Kennet long barrow, Wiltshire
For the Grave Concerns course we looked at burial practises in the Neolithic and how the new monuments correspond to the old centres of Mesolithic activity; a permanent link between the emerging new way of life more based on agriculture and the ancestral dead.

There is a suggestion that the shapes of monuments relate to the type of houses favoured in an area, with a link between the houses of the living and the dead. On the southern chalklands of the UK long mounds are constructed over wooden and then megalithic structures, as at West Kennet and Nutbane. They tend to be linked to causewayed enclosures.

The internal structure is generally of a tomb (at the wide end or sides) with chambers for the bones, initially of wood and then succeeded by stone, with a segmented construction running through the covering mound (after the tombs are abandoned):
Hazleton North barrow
The final mound construction is revetted with stone with a forecourt at the wider end. Is the segmented internal construction symptomatic of gang labour or to stop soil creep, or part of the ritual shape of the tomb? Bones tend not to be articulated, which could point to excarnation practises. The shape of the megalithic tombs are curious, with marked similarities to the much earlier Malta temples:
West Kennet

Huge stones are set in place when the sites are abandoned:

In Ireland, North Wales and northern and western Scotland we have Newgrange:
Bryn Celli Ddu:
and Maes Howe:
In these round tomb mounds are passages leading to chambers, some with carved stone basins holding cremations:
Knowth basin
Astronomical features include the box above the entrance of Newgrange, constructed for the the light of the sun to enter at mid-winter sunrise:

These tombs may have been brightly painted, with effects of drums, smoke, booming horns and dancers adding to the drama. Drugs may have played a part in communing with the ancestors.  

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Deb & Dom: The Diggers 2

Grave Concerns-Palaeolithic

The first 'Graves Concerns' session went well, looking at the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. The first site we looked at was at Shanidar Cave, dug in the 1950s and finding some rare Neanderthal burials:
One skeleton showed that Neanderthals looked after injured people, with one individual having injuries to the face, and the loss of the lower right arm, all healed.

At Sungir we looked at one of the oldest Homo Sapien Sapien burials to be found so far:
Grave goods included thousands of ivory beads, bracelets and pendants, as well as delicate sculptures of a horse and mammoth.

Dolni Vestonice, Czech Republic, is famous for its graves including abundant artefacts from 27-20,000 BC. This included the Venus of Dolini Vestonice:
One skeleton of a woman had a disfigurement of the left side of the skull. In the grave was a carving with the same disfigurement:
Is this the earliest portrait ever found? Also found here is the 'Three People Grave':
The grown male is prone and the adolescent seems to be pointing the womb. Deliberate of accidental? Why is the male prone and the other two supine? Questions we will never answer with certainty.

What we can say is that pre- and post-ice age people had a sense of the after-life and ways of expressing their faith in it through ritual and burial of individuals from their communities.