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Durham University

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Publication details

Moore, T. (2011). Detribalizing the later prehistoric past: concepts of tribes in Iron Age and Roman studies. Journal of Social Archaeology 11(3): 334-360.

Author(s) from Durham


In studies of the Iron Age and Early Roman periods the concept of the ‘tribe’ has long been a social framework upon which to hang the archaeological record. Yet, despite widespread recognition of the complex social processes and shifting identities during Rome’s expansion, the nature of ‘tribes’ in Late Iron Age Britain and the suitability of this term for describing societies at this time has been largely ignored. This article examines why the term ‘tribe’ has retained its prominence in archaeological studies despite being widely critiqued by anthropologists. Through an examination of the historiography of the term I argue that the traditional tribal model was born of nineteenth-century perceptions of social systems and that neither archaeological evidence nor classical sources support many of its current connotations. The names in classical sources should instead be regarded as reflecting the emergence of new social and political entities in the later Iron Age.