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Patterns in the modification of animal and human bones in Iron Age Wessex: revisiting the excarnation debate

Madgwick, Richard ORCID: 2008. Patterns in the modification of animal and human bones in Iron Age Wessex: revisiting the excarnation debate. Presented at: 8th Annual Iron Age Research Student Seminar, Cardiff, UK, 18-19 May 2006. Published in: Davis, Oliver, Sharples, Niall MacPherson and Waddington, Katherine Emma eds. Changing Perspectives on the First Millennium BC: Proceedings of the Iron Age Research Student Seminar 2006. Cardiff Studies in Archaeology Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 99-118.

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Social practices concerning the treatment of human and animal remains in the Iron Age have long been a focus of debate in archaeological literature. The absence of evidence of a formal burial rite and the regular retrieval of human remains from ‘special’ deposits or ABGs has led to widespread discussion surrounding what majority rite was practised in Iron Age Wessex and excarnation has been a popular explanation. The deposition of unusual configurations of faunal remains, often associated with human remains may be suggestive of an interrelated pre-depositional and depositional practise between the different classes of remains. This paper explores how a holistic analysis of bone taphonomy can contribute to the understanding of social practises surrounding the pre-depositional treatment of humans and animals. In a case study of the sites of Winnall Down and Danebury, it was demonstrated that humans and animals were treated significantly differently. Human remains exhibited far less modification than faunal material, suggesting that excarnation was unlikely to have been the majority rite. However, results indicate that either exposure in a protective environment or exhumation was practised so that partial or total disarticulation could occur with little taphonomic modification. Taphonomic analysis of faunal material demonstrates that it is not only humans and animals that were treated differently, as dog and horse remains exhibit significantly different patterns of modification to other animals. Results are indicative of rigidly controlled culturally constituted social practices relating to the treatment of different classes of bone.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Publisher: Oxbow Books
ISBN: 9781842173268
Related URLs:
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 24 Oct 2022 10:07

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