This chapter will review the lives and deaths of individuals who end up in the bogs: evaluating the competing arguments for their fate, from accidental death to suicide, burial, murder, execution and sacrifice. It will explore the lives they lived, from unique insights into diet, disease and personal appearance, to mobility, origin and status, which can be gleaned from their remains. Who were they? What life had they lived up until this point? This chapter will discuss new evidence that some bogs were used in later prehistory as part of the mortuary process, using the preservative powers of its waters and temporary immersion to slow time before final burial. The chapter seeks to temper the classical authors’ accounts of barbarism or sacrifice within a wider appreciation of the motives and mindsets of later prehistoric communities, often facing considerable periods of environmental change or political unrest. It will normalise the apparent brutality we see in the bog bodies alongside other wetland and dryland remains, arguing that they represent one end of a spectrum of violence deployed as a strategy of control: using the ethnography of violence to understand – if not to excuse – the violence we witness in these remains.
This chapter presents an original re-analysis of ‘Worsley Man’: Manchester Museum’s bog head, incorporating a new radiocarbon date, forensic analysis of trauma and identification of cause of death, isotopic analysis of hair, histological analysis of both human tissue and supposed animal tissue ‘ligature’, HMXIF scan and conservation history. It will include a specific consideration of the power of the ‘head’ in cultural history and the specific connotations it might have had for the ancient Britons as well as their Roman conquerors (including a section here on the Insus cavalryman figure). It will also highlight the Lancashire phenomenon of the ‘screaming skull’ that, once found, must be cared for and kept close to the living, as a way of understanding the feelings of ownership and belonging often attached to the ancient dead.
Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries are well-known because of their rich grave goods, but this wealth can obscure their importance as local phenomena and the product of pluralistic multi-generational communities. This book explores over one hundred early Anglo-Saxon and some Merovingian cemeteries and aims to understand them using a multi-dimensional methodology. The performance of mortuary drama was a physical communication and so needed syntax and semantics. This local knowledge was used to negotiate the arrangement of cemetery spaces and to construct the stories that were told within them. For some families the emphasis of a mortuary ritual was on reinforcing and reproducing family narratives, but this was only one technique used to arrange cemetery space. This book offers an alternative way to explore the horizontal organisation of cemeteries from a holistic perspective. Each chapter builds on the last, using visual aesthetics, leitmotifs, spatial statistics, grave orientation, density of burial, mortuary ritual, grave goods, grave robbing, barrows, integral structures, skeletal trauma, stature, gender and age to build a detailed picture of complex mortuary spaces. This approach places community at the forefront of interpretation because people used and reused cemetery spaces and these people chose to emphasise different characteristics of the deceased because of their own attitudes, lifeways and lived experiences. This book will appeal to scholars of Anglo-Saxon studies and will also be of value to archaeologists interested in mortuary spaces, communities and social differentiation because it proposes a way to move beyond grave goods in the discussion of complex social identities.
To conclude, Chapter 6, ‘Kinship and community’, places the cemeteries back into their cultural context by discussing the legal and textual evidence. Like Chapter 1, this chapter explores whole cemeteries. Each preceding chapter built on the last to introduce thematic elements; this chapter explores cemeteries as complete, and as social phenomena. It establishes cemetery space as a unique and local creation. Each cemetery used different methods which could differentiate between groups of graves and identify distinguished individuals from different generations. However, the creation of these burials was not solely to reconstruct the personhood of the deceased; it also recreated community narrative with a ‘scopic regime’. This localised way of seeing used gender and life course as well as situational, political and regional identities within a conglomerate, multi-layered mesh of characteristics. It is this dispositional difference between graves, and between sites and across regions that can be used to discuss the nature of Anglo-Saxon society.
Chapter 4, ‘The grammar of graves’, explores leitmotifs, cultural themes in funerary display. These include social hierarchy, core burials, sex, gender and age. Plots or groups of graves were often structured using the location of significant burials within them. This focus may have been on the core groups of graves, which sometimes encircled specific individuals. Interestingly, graves with mounds on them were targeted by contemporary grave robbers, but some types of grave were deliberately avoided. Elaborate burials with exposed markers were a tool used by a community to create key ancestors who formed powerful parts of the communal identity.
Chapter 5, ‘Intonation on the individual’, builds on the previous three chapters to locate the lived experience. It uses skeletal archaeology to explore the distributions of skeletal trauma, diet and height. This focus on the body developed in order to explore in more detail the differences in social attitudes expressed within the mortuary environment. Diet and trauma may provide insights into differential lifeways, whereas height and teeth metrics may reveal a degree of relative biological connection across the cemeteries investigated.
Chapter 3, ‘Mortuary metre’, considers the chronological construction of sites, the development of cemeteries and the chronological transformation of funerary display. Building on the new chronologies proposed by John Hines and Alex Bayliss, and Catherine Hills and Sam Lucy, this chapter looks at Spong Hill, Sewerby, Apple Down, Wakerley, Oakington, Deal and Orpington. It also presents an in-depth investigation of the chronology at Dover Buckland because this site has been central to previous discussions of early Anglo-Saxon chronology. This chapter highlights discordant chronologies within sites, highlighting the use of different rituals by different identity groups within the same community.
Chapter 1, ‘Negotiating early Anglo-Saxon cemetery space’, provides an introduction to the subject by describing how archaeologists have approached early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. It uses this historiography as a foundation upon which to describe several cemetery sites, starting with a double burial from Oakington and then focusing on the description of two complete cemeteries at Orpington, Kent and Apple Down, West Sussex. This chapter illustrates the problem with traditional monothematic approaches and describes how spatial layout, material culture and skeletal characteristics can be used together to explore the social arena. It also defines the philosophy that underpins the book. Based on interdisciplinary perspectives, Chapter 1 explores the causal agency embedded in relationships, material expressions of identity, transformative objects and aesthetic selection. Artefacts exist within the social world, and so the sociology of shoes and modern-day gravegoods are useful examples which are analogous to how more ancient objects interfaced with people. Society is pluralistic, but its physical remains are created from an amalgam of factors, including the manifestation of identities and aesthetics derived from shared semiotic knowledge.