Bones of Unknown and Hoary Antiquity: re-assessment of the Neolithic primary burials at Wor Barrow, Cranborne Chase, Dorset

This source preferred by Martin Smith

Authors: Smith, M.J. and Allen, M.

Start date: 13 September 2013

General Pitt Rivers’ excavation of Wor Barrow, Cranborne Chase, Dorset in the 1890s was hailed as the first scientific excavation of a Neolithic long barrow. This excavation continues to retain iconic status because of the detailed exemplary record and publication that was produced. This paper presents the first portion of a project funded by English Heritage to re-interrogate the complete surviving archive from Wor Barrow including the human remains with 21st century methods and updated questions. With regard to the primary burials in the mound these questions bear upon aspects of Neolithic society, monument building and funerary events. While Pitt Rivers concentrated on the stature and craniometry of the ‘early British people’ we can now address criteria of health, origins and aspects of the lived experiences of those interred within the mound. Additional attention to the photographic archive in conjunction with re-analysis of the skeletal remains has also permitted new observations to be made regarding the deposition of the primary burials. Here we suggest a revised sequence of funerary use of the barrow which forms the basis of Bayesian statistical modelling for a newly calculated radiocarbon chronology. These techniques have combined to provide a more detailed picture of complex and sometimes considerably drawn-out mortuary practices than was previously discernible at this famous monument with important implications for other Neolithic burials from elsewhere.

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