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MATT BRUDENELL AND ANWEN COOPER

POST-MIDDENISM: DEPOSITIONAL HISTORIES ON LATER BRONZE AGE SETTLEMENTS AT BROOM, BEDFORDSHIRE

Summary. This paper considers recent discussions of ‘deliberate’, ‘formal’, ‘placed’, ‘special’, ‘structured’, or ‘token’ deposits on later prehistoric settlements in Britain. It argues that while these concepts have certainly been very important in raising and forefronting the interpretative possibilities that depositional practices might offer, the idea of structured deposition has, at times, been adopted and applied somewhat simplistically. In such instances, exploration of the potential complexity and interpretative scope of depositional histories on later prehistoric settlements has been substantially curtailed. Current understandings of depositional practices involving pottery and burnt human bone are examined, and alternative interpretations offered, through a case study of the evidence recovered from a series of later Bronze Age settlements at Broom Quarry, Bedfordshire.

introduction

Since its development in ethno-archaeological (Moore 1982) and Neolithic studies (Richards and Thomas 1984; Shanks and Tilley 1982) and subsequent revitalization in accounts of later prehistoric settlement (Brück 1999; 2001; Hill 1993; 1995), the concept of structured deposition has proved to be highly pervasive and influential in understanding material dynamics in British prehistory (Jones 2001). While in its earliest archaeological rendition, the term was used quite specifically to describe material associations that were thought to have been produced according to ‘highly formalised, repetitive [and thus potentially ritual] behaviour’ at the henge monument of Durrington Walls (Richards and Thomas 1984, 191), more recently it has been applied much more broadly, throughout later prehistory, to deposits containing material that was seemingly selected or arranged within cut or upstanding features (e.g. Cunliffe 1992; Hill 1995; McOmish 1996) or placed in strategic locations (such as major settlement boundaries) on archaeological sites (e.g. Brossler 2001; Brück 1995; 1999). In parallel with the increasing use of this concept, the language used to describe structured deposits has come to include the terms deliberate, formal, placed, ritual, selected, special, and token. This broader vocabulary has been generated in order to highlight subtle differences in the character of the deposit under consideration. For example, the term formal has been used to imply that material elements were arranged in some way or that the act of deposition was performed with some care (e.g. McKinley 2003; Pollard 1995). Deliberate and placed

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likewise emphasize the intentionality attributed to such deposits, and, in the case of the latter, their strategic positioning in relation to other features such as structures or boundary ditches (e.g. Bradley 2003; Guttman and Last 2000). Special has been applied to deposits including certain distinctive materials (e.g. Grant in Cunliffe 1984, 533–43). Finally, token or selected refers to instances in which fragments of a material entity (for example, pieces of charred bone from a human cremation) were deposited as a symbolic referent (Brück 1999; 2001; 2006). Attempts to interpret structured deposits have considered the possible meanings associated with the formal treatment of certain materials (e.g. Cunliffe 1992). They have examined the potential properties (physical, metaphorical, transformational, etc.) that may have been ascribed to such materials, and the conceptual links that could have been made between different kinds of material that were afforded special attention (e.g. Brück 2001; 2006). It has been argued that, in the Bronze Age of southern Britain, strong symbolic connections were made between the life-cycles of people and the life-cycles of the materials they used (Brück 1999). Given that the items involved in such deposits are often fragmented or even seemingly ground up, it has also been contended that the act of destroying (breaking or burning) materials for deposition may have been seen as a metaphor for the closure of a period of settlement or the ending of someone’s life (Brück 2006). A number of studies have analysed the location of special deposits in relation to archaeologically visible junctures – major settlement boundaries or post-holes at the entrances to roundhouses – leading to suggestions that such deposits were sometimes made in order to mark strategic places (e.g. Parker Pearson 1996) or particular moments in the duration of a settlement (e.g. Brück 1999). Others still have noted the potentially aesthetic or performative qualities of structured deposits, distinguishing between the acts of selecting items of aesthetic worth (e.g. decorated pottery), and carefully arranging items (that were not necessarily visually attractive in themselves) in such contexts (e.g. Pollard

2001).

However, it has recently been argued that there is an increasing tendency simply to identify structured deposits, without fully considering the processes by which they were

produced: ‘structured deposition

has become an interpretation in itself’ (Garrow 2007).

. . . While this last point was made in relation to the Neolithic literature, it is not at all difficult to seek out recent accounts of Bronze and Iron Age archaeology for which the same assertion could be made (e.g. Brown et al. 2006; Cook et al. 2004; Guttman 2000; Kirk and Williams 2000; Ladle and Woodward 2003; Proctor 2002; Woodward 1998–9). Building on both the insights and shortcomings of some of this earlier work, this paper critically examines the ways in which structured deposits on later prehistoric (Bronze and Iron Age) settlements have been identified and understood. We contend that while the initial discussion and interpretation of depositional practices was undoubtedly very valuable, the criteria that have subsequently been used to recognize structured deposits in later prehistoric contexts have frequently been simplistic and selective: certain elements of assemblages have been singled out at the expense of others, and as a result other potential explanations for the patterning of material remains have not been explored. Our aim is not to suggest that the concept of structured or ritual deposition on later prehistoric settlements should be rejected outright. Rather, it is to elicit some of the potential complexities that are involved in interpreting structured deposits; to suggest that the intentionality we ascribe to the creation of such deposits must be argued for much more rigorously (following Hill 1995); and, most importantly, to raise the possibility that the patterning we observe in archaeological remains can be interpreted in other, equally interesting ways. Such an approach is perhaps particularly important for a period in

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which it is widely acknowledged that settlement debris in general may have been a source of symbolic reference (Brück 2001), and distinctive deposits are encountered not only in cut features, but also in large middens above the ground (Lawson 1994; McOmish 1996; Needham

1993).

By considering the broader contexts in which certain distinctive materials (decorated or freshly broken pottery and burnt human bone) were deposited, and adopting an approach that does not assume from the beginning that there was always intentionality behind the ‘structuredness’ that archaeologists perceive, this paper presents some alternative understandings of depositional histories on later Bronze Age sites. In order to do so we present a case study examining in substantial detail the evidence from a series of later Bronze Age settlements at Broom Quarry in Bedfordshire (Cooper and Edmonds 2007). Using this analysis, we question exactly how the assemblages in features containing unusual items were formed, situate these items in relation to the wider spatial and material contexts in which they were deposited, and examine what other interpretative possibilities might arise, once the evidence is viewed in this way.

It is important to note that while the interpretations we make in relation to this case study are necessarily contextually specific, we also raise points that are significant to understandings of later prehistoric settlement histories much more broadly. By highlighting the interpretative potential that we encountered through our engagement with this particular body of material, we intend to re-emphasize the argument that depositional practices can be different in different places and times (following Hill 1995), and to encourage more creative and thoughtful exploration in future of the practices that structured later prehistoric deposits.

broom quarry

Before turning to a detailed analysis of the material itself, it is useful to introduce briefly the archaeological sites under consideration (Fig. 1). Broom Quarry is situated just over 2 km to the south west of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire on a spur of river gravels to the west of the Ivel valley. Investigations over a 10-year period by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, in advance of quarrying, yielded archaeology dating from the earlier Neolithic to the post-medieval period (this evidence is discussed in full in Cooper and Edmonds 2007). This included three distinct clusters of later Bronze Age settlement features associated with plain post-Deverel Rimbury pottery (c.1100–800 BC). Each of the three sites was made up of a seemingly familiar grammar of groups of pits and post-holes, roundhouses and four post structures, the vast majority of which were filled in one episode with a matrix of charcoal-rich soil, burnt stone, bone, flint and clay, pottery, worked flint and charred seeds of wild plants and cereals.

pottery

Understanding the types of practice responsible for the accumulation of ceramic material is by no means straightforward. Recent archaeological studies have demonstrated some of the complexities behind deposition, highlighting the numerous processes which can potentially give rise to varying compositions of material (see Needham and Spence 1997 for reviews of this literature). Despite such insights, where analyses have moved on to try and interpret the practices that created such deposits, they have tended to focus almost exclusively on finding ways to define and identify overt or highly formalized acts of pottery dumping and/or

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POST-MIDDENISM Figure 1 Later Bronze Age settlements at Broom Quarry, Bedfordshire. table 1 An example of

Figure 1 Later Bronze Age settlements at Broom Quarry, Bedfordshire.

table 1 An example of traits used to identify special pottery deposits (Guttman and Last 2000, 355)

• Many sherds from a particular vessel/s • ‘Unusually’ large pieces of a vessel/s • Freshly broken or curated sherd material • Selected parts of vessels such as rims • A high mean sherd weight for individual pottery deposits • A large quantity of pottery from a range of different vessels

placing of ceramic debris. Pottery groups are thus classified as ‘special’ if they contain one or a combination of the criteria listed in Table 1. Before moving on to examine the specific character of some later Bronze Age pottery assemblages from Broom Quarry, it is worth considering how the criteria listed in Table 1 were formulated, and more specifically, asking what founding principles lay behind separating ‘exceptional’ from ‘other’ pottery deposits. It is important to emphasize at the outset that these criteria are primarily derived from J.D. Hill’s work on depositional practices in Iron Age Wessex (Hill 1995). In his original scheme, Hill identified two distinct types of ‘exceptional’ pottery deposit (Table 2), on the basis of a series of detailed investigations into how the quantity and size of sherds from individual deposits (layers in pit fills) varied across site-specific pottery assemblages. Using pottery data from six Early–Middle Iron Age assemblages, Hill showed there to be a general logarithmic relationship between mean sherd weight (MSW) and the number of sherds in individual pottery groups. By plotting the MSW of pottery deposits against the number

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table 2 Hill’s four categories of exceptional deposits from individual layers/context (Hill 1995, 40)

I. POTTERY

Ia.

Small numbers of large to very large sized pot sherds

II. ANIMAL BONE

Ib. Large numbers of small to medium sized pot sherds Large numbers of bone fragments, the majority often from a single species, and often including articulated/associated groups of bone

III. SMALL FINDS Two or more small finds IV. HUMAN REMAINS

table 3 Hill’s three ‘distinct’ types of pottery assemblage (1995, 39)

  • I. Low densities of small–medium sized sherds – the bulk of layer assemblages Large assemblages of medium–small sherds

II.

III. Deposits of small numbers of large–very large ‘freshly’ broken, or at least carefully curated, sherds

of sherds, he was able to identify different types of pottery deposit based on recurring patterns in the distributions. Using MSW as an index of sherd size, three distinct types of pottery deposit were defined, each characterized by differences in the number and size of sherds, and the frequency of their occurrence in an assemblage (Table 3). This threefold classification of pottery types formed the basis for distinguishing special deposits. Building on this categorization, Hill interpreted deposit Types II and III as being ‘exceptional’, with Type I being the ‘average’ or ‘background’ on a site. To put it simply, only large dumps of pottery or large unabraded sherds were considered to be special. Over the past decade, the traits which Hill identified as characterizing exceptional pottery deposits have come to be used across Britain as a litmus test for establishing whether or not any given pottery group represents an act of formalized deposition (e.g. Marsden in Beamish 1998, 52–4; Brown et al. 2006, 172; Last in Gibson 2004, 36–41; Guttman and Last 2000). Although Hill’s scheme was aimed quite specifically at explaining variation in Iron Age pottery assemblages from Wessex, and he himself stressed that the topic required further investigation (Hill 1995, 39), the traits he defined have since been transformed somewhat straightforwardly into a universally applicable ‘check-list’ for identifying structured deposition. As a result, material has come to be categorized, and interpretations made on a simple presence/absence basis, without necessarily being supported by detailed analytical work. It is therefore not Hill’s original discussion of deposition and deposits that we take issue with, but the sometimes rather simplistic and mechanistic ways in which his ideas have been applied by others. Quite apart from questioning if the patterns identified for Wessex are relevant elsewhere in Britain, or at different times in later prehistory, there has been little further discussion as to whether Hill’s threefold classification adequately reflects the full range of variation within and between pottery groups. This point is critical, since the traits which have come to be used to identify special pottery deposits are derived directly from a very particular understanding of assemblage variation. In other words, if there are problems inherent with the current ‘universal’ perception of the overall variation within pottery assemblages, there are also likely to be problems with the traits that are held to signify special deposits. It is argued here that the complexity of variation that is evident within and between later Bronze Age ceramic groups cannot necessarily be reduced to the three all-encompassing types

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table 4 Characteristics of pottery deposits weighing over 500 g from sites at Broom Quarry

Site

Pit

% Small

% Med.

% Large

No. sherds

Weight (g)

MSW

Min. no. vessels

 

(<4 cm)

(<8 cm)

(>8 cm)

Hill Lane

F. 199

62

34

4

67

703

10.5

6

Toll House

F. 542

72

25

4

74

532

7.2

11

Toll House

F. 550

76

23

1

122

612

5.0

2

Toll House

F. 557

76

22

1

139

875

6.3

10

Toll House

F. 568

82

16

2

167

974

5.9

13

Gypsy Lane

F. 673

89

7

4

150

793

5.3

3

Gypsy Lane

F. 754

86

30

2

564

3535

6.3

35

Gypsy Lane

F. 780

48

47

5

99

1001

10.1

15

Gypsy Lane

F. 865

67

30

3

85

648

7.6

5

Gypsy Lane

F. 874

62

34

4

131

931

7.1

7

Gypsy Lane

F. 891

42

56

2

78

838

10.7

7

that Hill originally outlined. The problem with this scheme is that the divisions are based on the relationship between just two variables, namely the number of sherds and MSW. Whilst in Hill’s analysis the correlation between these factors was aptly demonstrated, it is vital to recognize that the relationship between these two variables may not always be so clear-cut. Consequently, it is important to explore the possibility that alternative patterns in the material might be established using different variables. It is not the aim of this paper to provide new correlations, or to find alternative ways of categorizing types of ceramic deposits. The point we hope to make is that assemblage composition can be explored in a multitude of ways, and that by categorizing deposits on the basis of particular variables, we ultimately limit the scope of our interpretations. Variation in the composition of deposits should be a theme to be explored, taking into account a much wider range of variables than just the number of sherds and MSW. It was with this approach in mind that the pottery assemblages from three later Bronze Age sites at Broom Quarry were assessed. This revealed that in most cases, the pottery deposits precluded any straightforward classification. Even in instances where there were some broad similarities between deposits, in terms of the number of sherds or overall weights of material, it was simply not possible to categorize these assemblages into meaningful or coherent types. Rather, a closer examination of the material showed that the pottery deposits were typified by mixed and varied assemblages, containing sherds of different sizes, different vessels, with varying pre-depositional histories. Importantly, whether these deposits were large or small, the spectrum of variation within any one feature was often as wide ranging as it was between assemblages from different features. The complexity of variation within the ceramic groups from Broom Quarry is further demonstrated by exploring the details of a sample of pit assemblages containing over 500 g of pottery. It is worth noting that these ‘large’ deposits of pottery were relatively rare, with only 11 such examples in total from the three sites. Using Hill’s criteria, all of these groups would also have been deemed ‘special’, based on either the total weight of material, the number of sherds, or in some deposits, the presence of multiple vessel fragments. In fact they would all have fitted comfortably into Hill’s Type Ib category of ‘exceptional’ pottery deposits (Table 3). It also became clear during our analysis that type-casting the pottery groups in this manner, or fixing the interpretative process at this point, would not do justice to the material. As Table 4 shows, there was actually considerable variation even between the large deposits, in

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MATT BRUDENELL AND ANWEN COOPER Figure 2 Comparison of % of small, medium and large sherds

Figure 2 Comparison of % of small, medium and large sherds from a sample of eight deposits from Gypsy Lane, Broom Quarry. Graph A shows sherd sizes from four different sized deposits, each under 500 g in weight. Graph B shows sherd sizes from four different sized deposits, each over 500 g in weight.

terms of the number of sherds, the MSW, number of vessels, and sherd sizes. The MSW was generally higher in deposits containing fewer sherds, whilst the minimum number of vessels was greater in deposits containing a larger number of sherds. However, beyond these tendencies, there were no strict correlations between any of the different variables. For any trend that was established, an exception could be found. For example, whilst the number of vessels tended to increase with the quantity of material, this was not always the case. In fact F. 542, the smallest deposit by weight, had the fourth greatest number of vessels. To take this analysis one step further, it is also important to emphasize that the same range of variation evident in the larger pottery groups was witnessed in smaller assemblages as well. Whether deposits contained 56 g or 931 g of pottery, the basic composition of the assemblage – at least in terms of sherd sizes – remained relatively similar (Fig. 2). This adds further weight to the argument that nothing was inherently special or significant about the large deposits of pottery other than the number of sherds they contained. In reality, the nature of the larger groups was entirely in keeping with the broader continuum of deposits on the site, making it difficult to justify why certain examples should be considered significant and not others. Far from there being distinct discernible categories, variation in sherd size, level of abrasion, or number of vessels represented appeared as a continuum, both within and between deposits of all sizes. Consequently, for the material from Broom Quarry at least, any simple classification of

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POST-MIDDENISM Figure 3 Mixed pottery assemblages from two later Bronze Age pits at Broom. Photo: M.

Figure 3 Mixed pottery assemblages from two later Bronze Age pits at Broom. Photo: M. Brudenell.

pottery deposits, such as that proposed by Hill, broke down on closer inspection. The divisions became blurred when variables other than the number of sherds and MSW were introduced. Having demonstrated the true complexity and variability of the later Bronze Age pottery assemblages from Broom Quarry, and suggested that any straightforward identification of special deposits amongst this material is problematic, it is important to ask how the patterning in these particular pottery assemblages might be more subtly characterized, and what interpretations might arise on this basis. As a result of undertaking detailed analysis of the entire pottery group from each feature, one notable pattern identified was that small, worn sherds tended to dominate many of the assemblages, though in most cases a few larger ‘fresher’ pieces were also present (Fig. 3). This variability in assemblage composition suggested that fragments which ultimately came to be deposited together had probably undergone relatively diverse post-breakage histories. The dominance of small sherds within these pottery groups implied that in most cases, once pots were broken, a relatively long period ensued before they were deposited in the ground, a period during which the sherds were transformed and broken down through processes of attrition, abrasion and burning (Hill and Braddock in Evans and Hodder 2006, 152–94). Meanwhile, the occurrence of a few, larger, freshly broken sherds, in the same assemblages, suggested that in some cases fragments were deposited soon after the pot was broken. Even in these examples, however, it is important to emphasize that in no instance was there clear evidence that these fresher, larger sherds had been carefully arranged within, or selected for, the act of deposition. As a result, it is very difficult to argue that the deposits of which they were part were in any way special. It was also apparent that fragments derived from a single vessel were sometimes separated and differently transformed prior to deposition. This is perhaps best demonstrated by one occurrence in which a burnt and unburnt sherd from the same feature refitted (Fig. 4). In

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MATT BRUDENELL AND ANWEN COOPER Figure 4 The refitting of burnt and unburnt sherds highlights how

Figure 4 The refitting of burnt and unburnt sherds highlights how fragments from a single vessel were sometimes differently transformed prior to deposition. Photo: M. Brudenell.

other examples, sherds were refitted between different features, in one case up to 55 m apart. This could suggest that following breakage, from time to time fragments came to be moved around the settlement over quite considerable distances, rather than being necessarily stored in one place. With regards to what kinds of settlement histories this evidence represents, it is certainly possible that the mixed assemblages of material were derived from one or more pre-depositional contexts such as upstanding middens. Here, repeated episodes of discard relating a range of settlement practices could have generated a diverse but relatively consistent accumulation of material. By drawing upon this refuse for depositional ‘events’, a cross-section of the pottery accumulated would have become caught in individual pit deposits, the result being the assorted ceramic arrangements that we encountered in the assemblages from Broom Quarry. Slight variations in these compositions would therefore be expected, though the broad tendency towards mixed deposits would remain constant. In some circumstances, it is possible that this material was deposited in pits close to the location in which it was stored. However, on other occasions it appears that material was shifted around the site prior to deposition, perhaps as a means of rationalizing these piles of debris, or perhaps because, for whatever reason, certain fragments were picked up and discarded elsewhere by the people and animals living on the site. Whilst this interpretation is less dramatic than one involving ‘special’ pottery groups, it does seem to be a much more appropriate way of explaining

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how sherds from different vessels in different states of fragmentation came to be deposited together on later Bronze Age settlements within this particular landscape. More importantly, this interpretation does not preclude the possibility that in some instances ceramic material was deposited with a greater degree of formality. It is simply that in these specific deposits, such practices were not materialized in a way that was archaeologically demonstrable. In summary, this analysis has shown that the criteria which have frequently been used to identify structured deposits of ceramic material on later prehistoric settlement sites are in many ways selective and exclusive. They are based on generalized assumptions about the overall nature and composition of pottery assemblages, and they fail to consider the full range of variation which can be exhibited within and between deposits. Interpretations that are made on this basis forefront only selected elements of material assemblages, at the expense of examining the composition of these assemblages as a whole. As a result, it can be argued that the use of such criteria blinds us to the possibility that material compositions can arise from a range of complex practices, some of which may, or may not, be formalized. The challenge is therefore to address this complexity, and to try and build alternative understandings of later Bronze Age settlement histories on this basis. What this study has demonstrated is that by bringing entire pottery assemblages into focus and exploring their individual components in detail, we can move towards a more sensitive consideration of later Bronze Age depositional practices. By appreciating the fact that most ceramic deposits are comprised of mixed material with different pre-depositional histories, it is possible to unpick the processes that underpinned everyday practice (both mundane and otherwise) and to be released from the simplistic and selective approach of seeking out the ‘special’. In fact it could be suggested that any attempt to define rigid criteria for identifying ‘special’ deposits may ultimately miss the point. Formal deposits may be structured in complex and varied ways, a possibility which is precluded by specifying any particular criteria by which to recognize them. Without exploring the variation within and between deposits, we run the risk of dismantling potentially informative groups of material, pulling out and emphasizing only those sherds which conform to the established criteria and our own preconceptions.

burnt human bone

While the previous section examined how assemblages of one specific material (pottery) have been treated selectively in interpretations of structured, special or placed deposits on later prehistoric settlements, this section addresses understandings of deposits that include another very different material, burnt human bone, which has arguably been treated rather unselectively. It has long been acknowledged that while few formal burials are known from this period, human remains, both burnt and unburnt, frequently occur in later prehistoric settlement contexts (Brück 1995). A number of interpretative studies over the last 15 years have examined this phenomenon in some detail (Brück 1995; 1999; 2001; 2006; Hill 1995) and raised some very important ideas. A strong case has been made for reconsidering our understandings of attitudes towards life and death during this period. In addition, these investigations have demonstrated that the observed connection between human remains and other later prehistoric settlement debris is not only worthy of consideration, but that by undertaking contextually specific analyses, it is possible to generate much more sophisticated understandings of what these material associations might mean. Such studies have also contributed to a significant increase in the recognition of fragmentary human remains on later prehistoric sites, and influenced the growing identification

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of placed or token deposits of human remains in such contexts (e.g. Boden 2003; Brossler 2001; Gibson 2004; Guttman 2000; Guttman and Last 2000; Kirk and Williams 2000). Rather than dwelling on the details of these recent interpretations, the intention here is to highlight some of the significant themes they have raised, and to consider them in relation to the burnt human bone from later Bronze Age contexts at Broom Quarry. In particular, this account will examine the common assumption that all archaeologically visible deposits of human remains were made intentionally (see, for example, the criteria defined in Table 2); the idea that human bone was perceived to have liminal qualities, and was thus deposited at significant settlement thresholds (e.g. Brück 1995, 255); and the suggestion that the specific histories of the individuals represented may have been recalled during the act of deposition itself and in subsequent encounters with these burial sites (e.g. Brück 1995, 259). Once again, the aim of this account is not to undermine the often very thoughtful analyses of the authors that initially developed these ideas in later prehistory. Rather, it is to highlight that if such concepts are taken as a blueprint for understanding all human remains encountered in settlement contexts of this period (e.g. Guttman and Last 2000), there is a danger of simply imposing our own expectations of significance and meaning onto the archaeological record, without fully considering how it was created. In fact, our analysis of the burnt bone from later Bronze Age settlements at Broom Quarry required us to explore the likelihood that not all fragmentary human remains were deliberately deposited in the contexts that archaeologists excavate, or even necessarily recognized as being of human origin at the time they entered the ground. This led us to consider in detail when and where the connections were actually made by the occupants of these sites between human remains and other settlement-related material, and ultimately to seek other interpretative possibilities.

Toll House

The later Bronze Age settlement at Toll House, Broom, included clusters of pits, a post-built roundhouse, four- and six-post structures, and other less coherent groups of post-holes (Fig. 5). Due to the acidic character of the geology, the only bone surviving in excavated features was that which had been charred or burnt. This material was identified in 26 separate contexts and in all instances was accompanied by a variety of other settlement debris, usually including a combination of burnt stone, pottery fragments, baked clay, worked and burnt flints, charred seeds and charcoal-rich soil. One of these deposits incorporated almost 400 g of burnt bone, which was clearly of human origin. However, the remaining burnt bone assemblages ranged from just 1–80 g in weight, and the amounts of settlement debris that accompanied them were much higher (Fig. 6). More significantly, the identity of the burnt bone in most of these smaller assemblages was very difficult to determine. It was only when this material was analysed microscopically by a human bone specialist that one further deposit was recognized as being definitely human, another as possibly human, and five as being of animal derivation (Dodwell in Cooper and Edmonds 2007). Importantly, the burnt bone could only be identified as human with any certainty in eight of the 26 contexts. It is also worth highlighting that not all of this burnt bone was actually noticed or even visible during the careful process of excavation. Notably, the potentially human fragments from the entrance to the roundhouse were only retrieved once the soil was sieved for charred plant remains.

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POST-MIDDENISM Figure 5 Plan of later Bronze Age archaeology at Toll House, Broom. An examination of

Figure 5 Plan of later Bronze Age archaeology at Toll House, Broom.

An examination of the spatial patterning of the burnt bone assemblages at Toll House is also revealing. While deposits of this material were clearly concentrated towards the centre of the site, close to the roundhouse, so were those of other materials, such as pottery (Fig. 7). As a result, it appears that deposits of settlement refuse in general, rather than burnt bone in particular, were focused in this vicinity. More specifically, if a comparison is made between the patterning of material that was positively identified as human, and that which was of animal origin, it appears that, if anything, it was burnt animal bone, rather than burnt human bone, that was most closely associated with roundhouse contexts (Fig. 8). Viewed in this way it is very difficult to understand the burnt human bone from Toll House using the interpretative avenues which were outlined at the beginning of this section. Firstly, it was extremely difficult to establish whether or not the vast majority of burnt bone deposits on this site were indeed human (a common problem on later prehistoric sites, e.g.

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MATT BRUDENELL AND ANWEN COOPER Figure 6 A selection of assemblages including burnt human and animal

Figure 6 A selection of assemblages including burnt human and animal bone at Toll House. Photo: A. Cooper.

MATT BRUDENELL AND ANWEN COOPER Figure 6 A selection of assemblages including burnt human and animal

Figure 7 Distribution of burnt bone and large pottery deposits (>250 g) at Toll House.

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POST-MIDDENISM Figure 8 Distribution of burnt human and animal remains at Toll House. Waldron in Guttman

Figure 8 Distribution of burnt human and animal remains at Toll House.

Waldron in Guttman and Last 2000, 346). Secondly, none of the material that was identified as human was deposited with obvious formality in any particular context. Even the largest deposit of burnt human bone was combined with other settlement debris in a pit. Thirdly, burnt human bone was no more clearly associated with important junctures in the settlement (for example in the features defining the roundhouse) than burnt animal bone, or in fact any other material. Significantly, the connection between burnt human bone and the wider settlement matrix of soil and other debris was apparently much stronger than its association with any particular spatial location. Finally, in several cases the amount of burnt bone incorporated in any one context was so small that it was not even visible during excavation; it was only retrieved during further analyses. On the basis of this evidence, at least, it seems very unlikely that the people making these deposits were always aware of the identity (human or otherwise), or even necessarily the presence of charred bone in the material they were interring. The point here is not to suggest that the death and charring of human bodies was not important to the later Bronze Age occupants of this site who knew and may well have loved the dead that are represented, or to deny that human remains were sometimes processed and deposited much more formally or linked with very specific narratives in other settlements of this

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period. Rather, it is to raise the possibility that these were not the only (or even the predominant) ways in which human fragments became incorporated in later prehistoric archaeological features. Moreover, if this is the case, it is necessary to negotiate how the particular deposits of burnt human bone encountered at Toll House (which did not fit such explanations) might otherwise be understood. In doing so, it is vital to consider not only how and where human remains were ultimately deposited as many recent interpretations have done, but also when this material was first mingled with the other remains of settlement. As has been noted elsewhere, cremation rites may include a number of different stages in various different places, and considerable lengths of time can pass before the resulting burnt material is eventually deposited in the ground (Barrett 1991, 121–2; McKinley 1997). One potential explanation for the patterning of the charred human bone at Toll House, for example, is that most (if not all) of this material was combined with the settlement matrix of soil and other discarded materials some time before it was ultimately deposited in the ground. Furthermore, if we accept the arguments raised elsewhere, that human remains (both burnt and unburnt) were sometimes interred in contexts other than cut features (McOmish 1996) or simply left on the ground surface (Cunliffe 1992), and that considerable periods of time may have elapsed before some of this material was deposited in the ground (Barrett 1991), we must also acknowledge the possibility that the exact location of human fragments within later prehistoric settlement features is not always going to be archaeologically meaningful. In fact, the lack of clear spatial patterning of burnt human remains in isolation on sites such as Toll House probably indicates that in certain circumstances, this material was accidentally incorporated into deposits that may have arisen from a wide variety of different forms of social practice. While the cremation ceremony itself may still have been highly formalized, and in some instances the act of interring human remains into the settlement matrix (for example in upstanding piles of debris) may have been performed with some care (see, for example, McOmish 1996, 73), it is certainly possible that these bodies were subsequently mixed (either deliberately or accidentally) with other burnt and unburnt materials, stored in piles, and broken down. In this light it is worth noting that the material accompanying the human fragments at Toll House had clearly undergone quite varied pre-depositional histories – in all cases, it included items that were differently fragmented, weathered, abraded and burnt. As was observed with the burnt human remains, some of this settlement-related material was heavily abraded and may have been lying on the ground surface for some time before being deposited, while some was fairly intact and may have been buried soon after it was discarded. Moreover, the occurrence of human fragments (and indeed entire burials) in upstanding later prehistoric middens in Britain is well attested in the exceptional circumstances in which such features survive (Brück 2001, 154). It is therefore perhaps surprising that while the close conceptual links between human remains and other settlement debris have been discussed in some detail (Brück 1999; 2001; 2006), the possibility that funerary deposits were sometimes made in similar (if less extensive) piles of refuse at sites on which they do not survive has not been fully considered. In seeking to identify structure in these deposits, it has perhaps too often been assumed that the formality was enacted at the moment that human fragments were interred in the ground, rather than much earlier in their pre-depositional histories. Following this argument it is possible to imagine that over time, charred human remains became scattered throughout the matrix that surrounded the occupation at Toll House. Indeed, the act of mixing human fragments together with other settlement remains may in itself have been of symbolic significance (Brück 2006, 297). What is more, in the period during which this

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material was stored and combined with other fragments, rather than being remembered, recounted or even deliberately transfigured (e.g. Brück 2001, 157), the specific histories of the people represented could have sometimes drifted out of focus. In this way, by the time that human remains were caught up in cut features of the settlement, their previous identities, and even their presence in the material being deposited, may not have been clear. In fact, perhaps the enigmatic origin of this material was sometimes a source of intrigue in itself.

discussion

This paper has examined the ways in which two very different materials (pottery and burnt bone) have sometimes been treated too simply in discussions of structured deposits on later prehistoric settlements. In the case of pottery, it has been argued that certain unusual elements of the assemblage (freshly broken or decorated sherds) have been highlighted at the expense of others in order to define special deposits. In addition, the amount of pottery deposited has been seen as significant in itself, rather than considering the full variability of the assemblage (size, condition, etc.) and imagining the complex ways in which it was produced. In the case of burnt human bone, it has been argued that many recent studies have viewed all archaeological occurrences of this material as deliberate deposits, without fully considering the possibility that in some instances at least, any formality in the funerary sequence took place long before the human fragments were eventually incorporated in cut features in the ground. In order to consolidate these arguments, and to elicit the complexities that can be encountered in trying to define and interpret unusual deposits, we will finish by discussing another rather distinctive assemblage from a different later Bronze Age settlement at Broom Quarry, which included both of the materials considered thus far. This final example is presented in order to highlight one instance in which we did encounter a group of materials that at first sight clearly stood out from the remainder on one particular site. Even so, further examination of this material showed that its composition could easily be understood as having resulted from a much broader continuum of depositional practices, rather than necessarily being specially curated for the purpose of deposition. What is more, by viewing the deposit in this way, we were required to think much harder about the kinds of settlement histories that could have created it, why it seemed exceptional in relation to the deposits found elsewhere on the site, and what this meant more broadly in terms of how the site’s occupants handled the material remains of their everyday lives.

The assemblage recovered from one of the small later Bronze Age pits at Gypsy Lane (F. 754) was both large and broad in composition. It included over 564 sherds of pottery from 35 different vessels, a burnt and shattered saddle quern, a complete loom weight and spindle whorl, burnt and unburnt worked flint, burnt bone, burnt stone, and the charred grains and processing waste of wheat and barley (Fig. 9). Using the criteria defined earlier in this paper, this assemblage would have been interpreted as exceptional because it contained a substantial amount of pottery, a high proportion of rim sherds, and fragments of burnt bone. It could also have been considered as exceptional because it contained whole artefacts such as a loom weight and spindle whorl, and items that were freshly burnt and broken, like a quern. In fact, as a whole, this assemblage could easily have been understood as a carefully curated collection of materials that was intended to symbolize a full repertoire of later Bronze Age household activities. It might even have been suggested that the deposit was made to mark a significant moment in the history of the settlement, or, perhaps

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MATT BRUDENELL AND ANWEN COOPER Figure 9 Plan of pit F. 754 at Gypsy Lane and

Figure 9 Plan of pit F. 754 at Gypsy Lane and photo of the assemblage from this feature. Photo: A. Cooper.

more specifically, in the lives of the occupants of the roundhouse situated just to the east. Such interpretations are certainly very alluring, and would also tie in with evidence from elsewhere in southern Britain that representative domestic assemblages were sometimes collected together and deposited with some care on later Bronze Age settlements (Brück 2006, 300). However, it could also be contended that viewing the assemblage from pit F. 754 in this way is in fact rather selective in itself. Indeed, the formality assumed by the authors in arranging this material for the photograph in Figure 9 was arguably much greater than that enacted in making the deposit in prehistory. Once again, it is important to stress that while the sheer amount and overall composition of this material was in some ways remarkable, if interpretation ends at the point of identifying it as a special deposit, or only focuses on items that stand out as being unusual, it actually obscures a substantial part of the history and character of the assemblage, and forecloses the possibility that it could be understood in different ways. Rather, it is vital that the large fineware sherds, fragments of burnt bone and complete objects are viewed alongside the smaller scraps of material and soil with which they were placed in the ground. The pottery assemblage from this pit did indeed include a high proportion of rims and fine, burnished sherds, but there was also a wide variety of other vessels that were broken down to different degrees (Fig. 10). While some of the items were still usable and more or less intact, there were also tiny scraps of burnt and unburnt material, including the fragments of unidentifiable burnt bone. What is more, while the burnt quern was nestled at the base of the pit and might have been placed there specifically, all of the remaining items were thoroughly mixed up within a soil matrix. Significantly, in no way can it be argued that this material was deposited with any clear formality. Moreover, given the incredibly varied condition of the items represented, it is in fact very difficult to imagine exactly how, and over what period, this assemblage could have been produced. In spite of the complexities involved in interpreting this material, it is argued here that by seeking to understand the assemblage as a whole (rather than focusing on its more unusual aspects), and by not assuming from the beginning that it was compiled or deposited with any clear purpose, it is possible to develop a subtler understanding of the history of this specific

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POST-MIDDENISM Figure 10 The variable fragmentation of pottery in F. 754 (images taken at same scale).

Figure 10 The variable fragmentation of pottery in F. 754 (images taken at same scale). Photo: M. Brudenell.

deposit in relation to the broader settlement practices of which it was part. For instance, it is certainly possible that the material in this pit came from a fairly discrete context, such as a rubbish pile associated with a particular household. As a result, what might be seen as a representative, or even ‘token’, domestic assemblage could well have built up quite unintentionally over a period of time. At some point in the history of the occupation, one that coincided with the burning of a fragment of saddle quern, and perhaps – or perhaps not – the close of the household, a portion of this material was gathered together, along with its soil matrix, with certain unbroken but no longer useful items, and dumped in a pit. Following this scenario, it is possible to imagine that some artefacts (the burnt bone and smaller pottery fragments) had accumulated for a long time and fragmented before they were ultimately deposited in the ground, while others (the burnt quern, spindle whorl and freshly broken sherds) were added to the assemblage much closer in time to the point at which the deposit was made, and were thus relatively intact. This interpretation might seem less exciting than one which involves trying to imagine the potential significance of compiling a representative domestic repertoire, the possible reasoning behind the treatment afforded to certain items prior to deposition (e.g. burning, shattering, etc.), or the performative aspects of burying these items. However, it does account for the evidence from this particular pit within the context of this particular site much more convincingly. It also allows for a discussion of the settlement histories that might have led to the creation not only of this specific deposit but also of those encountered elsewhere on the site. For example, it is possible to gain an insight into the tempo of ‘rubbish’ accumulation on this site. The fact that such an assemblage accumulated at all implies that there was a certain consistency in the way that the occupants of this site gathered up their spent materials on the ground surface. It also suggests that people were discarding their debris in one place over a fairly long time period, at least as long as it took to break at least 35 different pots (see Hill 1995, 129–31 for a calculation of the average number of pots broken per ‘household’ per year on the basis of evidence from ethno-archaeological and ethnographic examples). In addition, the fact that this particular assemblage stands out from those elsewhere on the site (which were typically varied in composition but relatively impoverished) indicates that stationary piles of settlement

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debris of this kind did not often survive for long on this site. Rather, it seems likely that even if the debris from individual or adjacent households, or from certain spatially confined activities, was initially accumulated in one place, it was usually then shifted around the site, where it became mixed with other materials and distributed much more broadly. In fact, this process is captured very effectively by the previously mentioned refitting of two sherds of the same vessel from cut features that stood some 55 m apart.

conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to consider the implications of our work at Broom Quarry for interpretations of later Bronze Age settlement practices more broadly. Firstly, we would like to emphasize that this paper does not advocate a blanket rejection of the notion of structured deposition, or interpretations surrounding the idea that later prehistoric settlement materials were sometimes collected and deposited with clear formality, and that such practices occasionally involved unusual items which were employed in surprising ways. Indeed, we ourselves elicited a history at one of the slightly later (500–300 BC) settlements at Broom Quarry in which certain articulated large mammal limbs were repeatedly selected and deposited in storage pits close to an earlier Bronze Age barrow (Cooper and Edmonds 2007, Ch. 4). However, what we do hope to have shown is that such understandings form only part of a much broader interpretative potential on sites of this period, the realization of which can easily be foreclosed by focusing on the identification and interpretation of structured or special deposits. Furthermore, if we accept this point, we can be provoked into thinking much more critically and thoughtfully about how we understand the character and patterning of settlement remains from this period in Britain. We have argued that it is not necessarily helpful or even relevant to try and identify structured deposits according to specific and rigid criteria, whether these relate to sherd size, quantity, or simple presence and absence. Thus, in the case of pottery, it was shown that on sites where assemblages are varied in composition, it is vital to try to understand this variability rather than picking out certain items (large, fineware, or rim sherds) that conform to checklists for identifying structured deposits, and interpreting them on this basis. By analysing the assemblages from individual features in their entirety, and trying to understand them in relation to the material recovered from other settlement features on the site, it is possible to generate contextually specific histories of depositional practice, which can then be built into broader understandings of later Bronze Age occupation. In the case of burnt human bone, it was argued that on settlements in which this material was not deposited with any clear formality (either within individual features or across the site), and where the amounts of burnt bone interred were sometimes very small, it is essential to try and understand the patterning of this material in relation to that of the other remains with which it was deposited. Such instances provide an opportunity to explore the possibility that the exact identity or history of the burnt human bone might not always have mattered by the point at which it entered the ground. More importantly, they allow for the creation of alternative – and just as interesting – understandings of practices involving this material on later prehistoric sites. Finally, it is important to acknowledge that, in our experience at least, it is often quite challenging to make unambiguous interpretations about the patterning of materials recovered from later prehistoric settlements. While it has been shown that it is possible to establish a fairly close connection between settlement activity and the material deposited in cut features in some earlier prehistoric contexts (see for example Garrow et al. 2005), it is very rarely feasible to

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demonstrate similar connections on later Bronze and Iron Age sites, where there often appears to have been a temporal or spatial distance between the two. It is perhaps partly for this reason that the notion of structured deposition has proved to be so pervasive in British later prehistoric settlement studies, given that such practices represent occasional instances in which clear, interpretable patterning was created at the moment of interment in the ground. However, as was evinced using the example of the mixed deposit in F. 754, it is all too easy to select the unusual characteristics of material assemblages, to recognize them as being ‘deliberate’, ‘formal’, ‘placed’, ‘special’, or ‘token’, and then to make generalized interpretations on this basis. It is much more complex but also more rewarding and interesting to start by considering in detail the contextually specific settlement histories that created such patterning, to think about the different scales at which such practices might have operated, and to explore the possibility that the structures which are rendered could have come about quite inadvertently, or through practices that were enacted over a much longer period before these assemblages were ultimately fixed in the ground.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Mark Edmonds, Christopher Evans and David Gibson at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit for supporting us during our research for this article. Tarmac Southern Ltd. funded the archaeological investigations at Broom Quarry. Richard Mortimer and Lesley McFadyen directed the excavations at Hill Lane and Toll House, and undertook the initial analysis and interpretation of material from these sites. Marcus Abbott, Iain Forbes, Andy Hall and Jane Matthews contributed at various stages to the production of the graphics. Richard Bradley, Joanna Brück, Mark Edmonds, Duncan Garrow, Chris Gosden, J.D. Hill, Jonathan Last, Mark Knight and Lesley McFadyen provided critical, insightful and encouraging comments on the TAG 2005 presentation in which the ideas from this article were initially aired, and/or on earlier versions of the text.

Department of Archaeology The University of Reading Whiteknights PO Box 217 Reading Berkshire RG6 6AH E-mail: a.j.cooper@rdg.ac.uk

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