Turning the World -- Rock-carvings and the Archaeology of Death
The probable making of the cupmarks before the tomb was complete, the haphazard positioning of the stones in the tombs, and the very similar distribution of the cupmarked stones not associated with the structures, suggest that cupmarking was practised by the Clava tomb-builders on boulders near their settlements, and these stones, because of their size and accessibility, were often among those chosen for part of the tomb structure. ( Henshall 1963, 32-3)
Landscape archaeologists have little time for burials. The dead are an inconvenience. Their intervention complicates the easy relationship between people and the distribution of resources; and their placing in the landscape must be put to use. So it is that the distribution of the dead comes to illuminate the life of the living. Burial mounds are plotted on soil maps as evidence for the distribution of settlements. The building of cairns becomes a side-effect of clearance, and the creation of mortuary monuments enshrines the territorial organisation of farmers.
Students of prehistoric ritual have equally restricted horizons, and, although they might resist the comparison, their work shares some of the same limitations. Neither group can command much evidence of earlier prehistoric settlements. While landscape historians seize on burial mounds as one indication of land-use, those who study monuments stress their geographical isolation. In doing so, they overlook the evidence of lithic artefacts found in and around these sites, and as a result they treat these extraordinary constructions as evidence of 'ritual landscapes' -- specialised areas set apart from everyday activity.
Each school over-emphasises the distinction between landscapes and monuments, but it does so in its own way. What they share is a tendency to divide the archaeological record into foreground and background; and, in doing this, inevitably they promote their own specialist interests. A holistic study must be more even-handed. We must not put the dead before the living, nor the living before the dead. There are studies enough of the place of
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Publication information: Book title: Vessels for the Ancestors:Essays on the Neolithic of Britain and Ireland in Honour of Audrey Henshall. Contributors: Niall Sharples - Editor, Alison Sheridan - Editor. Publisher: Edinburgh University Press. Place of publication: Edinburgh. Publication year: 1992. Page number: 168.
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