A demographic analysis of mortuary practice across time and space in south-east England during the Early Neolithic period

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In the study of past societies, differential ritual treatment of the dead can be indicative of individuals’ identities in life. The archaeological record for burials in the Early Neolithic period (4000–3300 BC) comprises a disparate body of evidence collected over hundreds of years since the antiquarian investigations of the 18th century. As such, it poses certain challenges arising from the variety of archaeological methods deployed and the resultant data, and the different interpretative frameworks used over time as the discipline has developed and practices have gone in and out of fashion, and indeed as modern society itself has changed. Furthermore, burial practice for the period has received relatively little attention in the south-east compared to the south-west side of England. Set within the radiocarbon dating frameworks which have recently transformed the study of this period, the evidence for burial locations, positions, orientations and grave goods is subjected to osteoarchaeological, statistical, palaeodemographic and archaeothanatological analyses to build a demographic profile of the Early Neolithic burial population and practices in south-east England.
This research has found that there are some aspects of demographic variation geographically across the region and in the locations of burials, with causewayed enclosures comprising a more egalitarian burial population than long barrows. This regional variation seems to result from the temporal spread of cultural ideas at this time. Burial orientations and grave goods also highlight demographic differentiation and indicate potential localised practices and customs. It is suggested that the archaeologically visible burial practices in the record for the Early Neolithic period of south-east England, which are limited in quantity, rather than memorialising the dead, may reflect an overriding concern with containment of deceased individuals of all demographic groups who were feared, perhaps due to their actions or relationships in life, for the protection of the living.
Date of Award11 Sep 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorNick Thorpe (Supervisor) & Keith Wilkinson (Supervisor)


  • archaeology
  • Early Neolithic
  • mortuary
  • palaeodemography
  • osteoarchology
  • archaeothanatology
  • burial locations
  • burial orientations
  • causewayed enclosures
  • long barrows

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