Mortuary Practices in the Iron Age of Southwest Britain

The 22nd Sara Champion memorial lecture & Awards evening
Dr Adelle Bricking, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Cardiff
Society of Antiquaries, Piccadilly, London
Adelle doing laboratory work


*** This evening will be streamed live on our YouTube channel from 4.30pm: Click HERE ***


Order of events:

4.30pm Presentation President’s Awards and the Student Dissertation Prizes.

5-5.45pm: Lecture

5.45-6.45pm: Wine reception.

FREE to attend and no need to book for in person or online: just turn up.

Lecture abstract:

This study conducts a comprehensive exploration of the enigmatic burial practices during the Iron Age in Southwest Britain (c.800 BC-AD 43). Despite the region's intriguing range of burial variations, it has not received significant attention in past research. This can be attributed partly to the unfavourable geological conditions that hinder the preservation of bones across much of the area. However, an alternative hypothesis proposes the prevalence of 'invisible'; funerary rites, especially excarnation (exposure of the body to the elements). Yet, a multitude of other possibilities also exists.

Thus, this research aims to identify mortuary practices afforded to the Iron Age dead by employing a multi-scalar methodology of microscopic and macroscopic analyses. Three main methods are used to shed light on various post-mortem stages:

1. Histological light microscopy of bone diagenesis of human bone samples representing various types of deposition (articulated, partially articulated and disarticulated), recovered from various site types and features, to determine early post-mortem treatments including excarnation or immediate burial;

2. Macroscopic taphonomic analysis of sampled elements to inform on secondary processes such as manipulation, curation and exposure;

3. Large-scale analysis of burial data collected from site reports (both published and unpublished) and HER records to determine regional patterns in burials or ‘final deposition’ characteristics.

The combined results of these methods suggest that mortuary practices in the Iron Age of Southwest Britain were protracted, involving series of multifaceted processes and various treatments leading up to the final deposition. Most importantly, this research suggests that exhumation, rather than excarnation, was largely responsible for skeletal disarticulation. Variations in post-mortem treatments may represent different stages of a widespread practice, or less common mortuary practices that were performed concurrently within Iron Age communities.