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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Benjamin Roberts

Caswell, E. & Roberts, B.W. (2018). Reassessing Community Cemeteries: Cremation Burials in Britain during the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1600–1150 cal BC). Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 84: 329-357.

Author(s) from Durham


The Middle Bronze Age (c. 1600–1150 cal bc) in Britain is traditionally understood to represent a major funerary transition. This is a transformation from a heterogeneous funerary rite, largely encompassing inhumations and cremations in burial mounds and often accompanied by grave goods, to a homogeneous and unadorned cremation-based practice. Despite a huge expansion in the number of well excavated, radiocarbon dated, and osteologically analysed sites in the last three decades, current interpretations of Middle Bronze Age cremation burials still rely upon a seminal paper by Ellison (1980), which proposed that they comprise and represent an entire community. This paper analyses 378 cremation sites containing at least 3133 burials which represent all those that can be confidently dated to the Middle Bronze Age in Britain. The new analysis demonstrates that relatively few sites can be characterised as community cemeteries and that there are substantially more contemporary settlement sites, though few contemporary settlements are in close proximity to the cemeteries. The identifiable characteristics of cremation-based funerary practices are consistent across Britain with little evidence for social differentiation at the point of burial. It is also evident that only a minority of the population received a cremation burial. There is a substantial decrease in archaeologically visible funerary activity from the preceding Early Bronze Age (c. 2200–1600 cal bc) and a further decrease in the proceeding Late Bronze Age (c. 1150–800 cal bc) in Britain. This is comparable in form, and partially in sequence, to Bronze Age funerary practices in Ireland and several regions in North-west Europe.