Evidence for Mummification in Bronze Age Britain

By Pearson, Mike Parker; Chamberlain, Andrew et al. | Antiquity, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Evidence for Mummification in Bronze Age Britain


Pearson, Mike Parker, Chamberlain, Andrew, Craig, Oliver, Marshall, Peter, Mulville, Jacqui, Smith, Helen, Chenery, Carolyn, Collins, Matthew, Cook, Gordon, Craig, Geoffrey, Evans, Jane, Hiller, Jen, Montgomery, Janet, Schwenninger, Jean-Luc, Taylor, Gillian, Wess, Timothy, Antiquity


Introduction--the site of Cladh Hallan

The Western Isles of Scotland--also known as the Outer Hebrides--contain some of the best preserved prehistoric settlements in the British Isles, dating from the Neolithic to the Iron Age (Armit 1996; Parker Pearson et al. 2004). Perhaps the best known of these prehistoric remains are the brochs, stone-walled Iron Age roundhouses, some of which stood over 10m high (Parker Pearson et al. 1996). Until recently, little was known of the period before the brochs but archaeological excavations at Cladh Hallan on the island of South Uist (Figure 1) have uncovered an unusually well preserved group of Late Bronze Age to Iron Age roundhouses (c. 1100-200 BC). The prehistoric settlement's main feature is a row of four or more roundhouses (Figures 2 and 3), all built as a single structure with party walls (Pitts 2002: 455; Barber 2003:174-5; Bewley 2003: 90-3; Parker Pearson et al. 2004: 64-82).

[FIGURES 1-3 OMITTED]

The houses were constructed as sunken-floored buildings, dug into the calcareous sand (known as machair sand) up to 1 m below ground level. The northernmost three of these houses were fully excavated; the fourth and possibly further houses to their south remain preserved within the southern half of the settlement mound. Within the north house (House 1370) were found the burials of two adults and a child, in the central house (House 401) a child and two dogs, and in the southern house (House 801) the burial of one child (Figure 4). Four of these burials, the two adults in the north house (a female, 2613 and a male, 2638) and the children in the central (2727) and southern houses (2792), were placed in the ground before the first floors of peaty sand were laid down. It is these burials, construed as pre-construction offerings, which also gave evidence for the prior mummification and curation of the bodies.

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

The floors of the middle and north roundhouses were unusual in that they consisted of sequences of multiple floor layers interspersed with make-up fills. Whereas the southern roundhouse had filled up with windblown sand on top of its initial floor, the middle round house had eight successive floors with a total depth of 1.3m. This continuous occupation and renovation spanned a period of almost a thousand years from c. 1100 BC to c. 200 BC, making it an unusually long-lived building. In the north house, the formation and use of two successive floors were followed by a brief period of abandonment (marked by windblown sand) and then the laying of a third floor (accompanied by a re-foundation burial of an infant). The infant was buried at the founding of the north house's third phase of occupation whilst the two dogs, one of them decapitated, were buried beneath the middle house's fourth floor (Figure 4).

The stratigraphic contexts of the burials

The skeletons of the four foundation burials lay within pits whose stratigraphic relationships to the roundhouses in which they are situated are strongly suggestive--but not unequivocally proven to be--of burial at the moment of house construction. The possibility that the bodies were buried as part of a cemetery, long before the roundhouses were erected, has to be considered but is highly unlikely for several reasons. Three of the four burials were located in a specific area of the roundhouses--the north-east quadrants. This association of death with the north-east was not only predicted before excavation began (Figure 5; see Parker Pearson & Sharpies 1999: fig. 1. 10c) but was also replicated by the subsequent (Late Bronze Age) burials of the infant and two dogs in the same quadrant within the floor sequences of the middle and north houses. Similarly, a human burial, cut into four and buried with animal bones in four small pits, was found beneath the north-east quadrant of an Early Iron Age roundhouse at Hornish Point at the north end of South Uist (Barber et al. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Evidence for Mummification in Bronze Age Britain
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.