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.  

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