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Kinship, community and identity
Author: Duncan Sayer

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.

Duncan Sayer

later-sixth and seventh centuries saw a deliberate transformation in the burial rite, but also in the stimuli which structured that rite. For many communities, clustered graves were no longer an important part of the funerary message. Grave density Grave density is a characteristic of cemetery organisation tangled up with the construction of identifiable grave plots. Density is a powerful visual tool that may have been used to enhance physical proximity or difference. This is evident in two ways: firstly, different cemeteries display different densities of graves

in Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries
Open Access (free)
Duncan Sayer

individual to others, and so display must be intended for an audience specific to a location and period. This social status is a mutable concept and a good way to think about part of a grave and cemetery’s messages, but it must be considered alongside other factors like gender, age and location within the broader cemetery organisation. Such ephemeral concepts cannot be derived from burial wealth alone. Moreover, while it is possible to criticise the segregation of cemeteries into ranks based on the numbers of objects, it is not possible to study cemeteries without

in Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries
Duncan Sayer

-Saxon cemeteries ( Figure 1.2 ) and defines the archaeological evidence for the people found in those graves. It considers this evidence as being the result of a nexus of identities established by their relationship with others. It explores a variety of themes, including taphonomy, space, life course, gender, objects and osteology, within the context of cemetery organisation and regional circumstances. Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries were the physical manifestation of community histories and early Anglo-Saxon societies; and they were textured, mutable, dynamic places within which

in Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries
Open Access (free)
Duncan Sayer

chronology ( 2012 : 325–53), tend to be more evenly spread between dates. More weapon graves, eleven, are associated with the later-sixth-century or early seventh-century phases 3a, 3b or 3, than the middle-sixth-century phase 2 which has seven (see Appendix 1). Brugmann’s correspondence analysis included the weapon graves. This incompatibility issue appears to be because different approaches use different assumptions, which are then used to date individual graves and their objects. For this national study of cemetery organisation, the male chronology used has relied

in Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries