Heads North or East? A re-examination of Beaker Burials in Britain
Heise, Marc E.
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This thesis compares burial practices of Beaker-using communities in Britain and provides a corpus of British Beaker burials. Chronologically, this study covers the period from around the 25th until the 18th century BC, from the Chalcolithic to the Early Bronze Age. Beakers were a new feature in late British prehistory and were probably introduced through small-scale migration and cultural transfer. Together with the pottery, a new style of funerary practices was introduced, that was comparable to continental practices at that time and strictly distinguished between male and female individuals. The standard continental practice, e.g. in Bohemia, was that men were buried with their head to the north, lying on their left side, thus facing east. Women were also facing east, but were buried on the right side and were consequently orientated to the south. This particular pattern can be found in southern Britain but is less strict in its application. This peculiar finding has attracted much scholarly interest since its discovery. Therefore, the research of Beaker funerary practices has a long tradition and still forms a core area of research. This study considers two main questions: does the data confirm established opinions on Beaker burial practices, including a distinct regional division of burial traditions, e.g. in terms of body orientation between northern and southern Britain, and is it possible to identify which area of continental Europe exerted the greatest influence on developments in Britain? In order to be able to structurally compare these burials, a database containing 311 entries has been compiled from the published literature. All available data on the skeletons has been integrated, including orientation, position, and limb position. Additionally, data on grave construction and artefacts has been collected. This data has been analysed quantitatively and qualitatively, both comparatively and statistically. Through the collected data, this thesis argues that the general image of Beaker burial practices is still valid. However, certain generalisations require revision, for example the orientations of individuals. Chronologically, early Beaker burials follow strict standards, while during the course of Beaker currency these standards become less strictly adhered to. Possible regions of the origin of British Beaker burial practices are usually connected with the Lower Rhine area. The study agrees that this area had strong influences in northern Britain, but argues that southern Britain, on grounds of orientations and positions of the bodies, had more varied influences with a stronger input from central Europe.