Assemblages within assemblages: Understanding mortuary practice through compact contained assemblages
AuthorsDowner, Abigail C.
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AbstractAmulet-interpretation remains a long-standing practice in early medieval mortuary archaeology that removes mortuary objects from their funerary contexts and cloaks diverse object-meanings under misleading terminology. This thesis presents an original methodology inspired by recent hoard studies and previous studies on the spatial positioning of objects in graves. The thesis aims to explore the multifactorial significance of objects through their spatial-positioning and clustered dispositions (compact contained assemblages, CCAs) with late sixth-, early and/or broadly seventh-century inhumed females from three regions in early medieval Europe: Alsace, Kent, and East Anglia. Specifically, it will explore with whom and how many objects often categorised as ‘amulets’ are deposited. The methodology is devised and deployed in two ways to test its efficacy at understanding mortuary-object meaning. First, the approach is utilised to explore and compare the composition and spatial-placement of CCAs sharing at least one object-type in common with contemporaneous and regionally coherent individuals. Second, the approach explores and compares the spatial-positioning and method of containment of a single object-type/material. The material selected for this second application was amber given the amuletic role its often prescribed by archaeologists in early medieval mortuary contexts. Both approaches of this methodology produced overlapping results. Overall, CCAs were very common across all studied samples suggesting that object containment was a regular feature of late sixth-, broadly and early seventh-century inhumation-burial. Possible explanations for this trend include object-protection, post-mortem transportation, and post-mortem storage. Additionally, the spatial-positioning of CCAs in graves often reflected regionally specific grave-cut dimensions and regional tastes in funerary structures. The two applications also revealed some regular features of CCA-composition. First, similarly positioned, contemporaneous, and regionally congruent female-CCAs often contained similar object-types, indicating that these clusters were deliberate and planned compositions that prescribed to larger contemporaneous and localised inhumation-grave layouts. In these similarly positioned and contemporaneous female-CCAs with similar object-types, the similar objects often exhibited unique decoration, possessed divergent forms, and/or were accompanied by a different object-types and object-quantities. This suggested that CCA-composition were a result of personalisation. The thesis ends with outlining future avenues of research and the utility of this approach in mortuary studies.
CitationDowner, A. C. (2021). Assemblages within assemblages: Understanding mortuary practice through compact contained assemblages [Unpublished doctoral thesis]. University of Chester.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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