Archaeological dating of grave headstones
Also included are short discussions on the archaeological techniques relevant to burial archaeology, legal aspects of excavating human remains, and interpretation of burial sites.
In studying the nature of attitudes to death and related rituals in the past, it is important to remember the alien nature of pre-Christian burial practices, especially prehistoric ones.
At Paviland (26,000 BP) on the South coast of the Gower Peninsula, South Wales, an adult male, c.25 years old and 1.7m tall, was excavated in a cave in 1823 by the famous antiquary, William Buckland.
In this period, hunter-gatherers were sometimes living in caves but were also making temporary open-air camps such as found at Boxgrove and on gravel sites in East Anglia.
In some areas there were base camps (often caves) and subsidiary camps within two hours' walking distance.
Whilst we know what people did from the evidence of excavated remains, we can't be sure why they did things in a certain way or about the rituals which were involved.
This paper presents a survey of burial practices from earliest times to the recent past, with particular emphasis on Britain.
Evidence from elsewhere is used for those periods from which there is little surviving in this country.
Neanderthal 'burials' have been found in a few caves, such as Shanidar Cave in Iraq.
There is some debate about whether these were deliberate or accidental burials (see Stringer and Gamble 1993, p.158).
Small groups of hunters were possibly moving seasonally and leaving temporary structures which have not survived.
Burial at this time is characterized by single or multiple cave burials, possibly because these sites have survived glaciation, or perhaps indicating a preference for burial in such places.