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Stonehenge and Middle to Late Neolithic cremation rites in mainland Britain (c. 3500-2500 BC)

Willis, Christina Catherine; (2020) Stonehenge and Middle to Late Neolithic cremation rites in mainland Britain (c. 3500-2500 BC). Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis examines the role of cremation in the Middle to Late Neolithic mortuary and funerary practices in mainland Britain between 3500–2500 BC. It is based on analysing osteological, contextual and chronological data to produce a comprehensive dataset of cremated human bones from mainland Britain. The funerary and mortuary rites in the Early Neolithic (c.4000-3500 BC) are characterised by their diverse variety in location and method of decomposition; however, most archaeologically visible rites contained collective male inhumations within rectangular monuments. During the Middle Neolithic (c.3500-3000 BC), this funerary rite shifted towards an emphasis on individual burials, and a rise in cremation cemeteries in association with circular monuments. By the Late Neolithic (c.3000-2500 BC), cremation was the dominant funerary rite mainly represented by token deposits within or near circular monuments (such as henges, stone/timber circles, pit circles and enclosures). Formal inhumation burials re-appeared in the Chalcolithic (c. 2200-2000 BC) and Beaker (c.2500-1850 BC) periods by continuing to construct (and often re-use) traditional forms of circular monuments. Cremation continued alongside these burials and were deposited in either specifically-made cremation cemeteries or into monuments as secondary deposits. This study found a high prevalence of female cremated remains within circular monuments throughout the Middle and Late Neolithic. This indicates that a shift in socio-political beliefs transpired at a time when paleoclimatic conditions fluctuated, the population sharply decreased, and a reliance on wild plant foods (rather than cultivated cereals) resulting in widespread cultural and funerary change. The number of recovered cremations (and indeed inhumations) accounts for only a small proportion of the Neolithic population, suggesting cremation was used for specific members of society and that the majority of the population was disposed of in some other, archaeologically invisible, way.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Stonehenge and Middle to Late Neolithic cremation rites in mainland Britain (c. 3500-2500 BC)
Event: UCL
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2020. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10094088
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