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Spectrums of depositional practice in later prehistoric Britain and beyond: grave goods, hoards and deposits ‘in between’

Cooper, A., Garrow, D. ORCID: and Gibson, C. (2020) Spectrums of depositional practice in later prehistoric Britain and beyond: grave goods, hoards and deposits ‘in between’. Archaeological Dialogues, 27 (2). pp. 135-157. ISSN 1478-2294

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1017/S1380203820000197


This paper critically evaluates how archaeologists define ‘grave goods’ in relation to the full spectrum of depositional contexts available to people in the past, including hoards, rivers and other ‘special’ deposits. Developing the argument that variations in artefact deposition over time and space can only be understood if different ‘types’ of finds location are considered together holistically, we contend that it is also vital to look at the points where traditionally defined contexts of deposition become blurred into one another. In this paper, we investigate one particular such category – body-less object deposits at funerary sites – in later prehistoric Britain. This category of evidence has never previously been analysed collectively, let alone over the extended time period considered here. On the basis of a substantial body of evidence collected as part of a nationwide survey, we demonstrate that body-less object deposits were a significant component of funerary sites during later prehistory. Consequently, we go on to question whether human remains were actually always a necessary element of funerary deposits for prehistoric people, suggesting that the absence of human bone could be a positive attribute rather than simply a negative outcome of taphonomic processes. We also argue that modern, fixed depositional categories sometimes serve to mask a full understanding of the complex realities of past practice and ask whether it might be productive in some instances to move beyond interpretatively confining terms such as ‘grave’, ‘hoard’ and ‘cenotaph’. Our research demonstrates that is it not only interesting in itself to scrutinise archaeological evidence that does not easily fit into traditional narratives, but that the process of doing so sheds new light on the validity of our present-day categories, enabling deeper insights into how people in the past ordered their material and conceptual worlds. Whilst our main focus is later prehistoric Britain, the issues we consider are potentially relevant across all periods and regions.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Archaeology
ID Code:91584
Publisher:Cambridge University Press


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