A Biocultural Analysis of Mortuary Practices in the Later Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman Black Gate Cemetery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England

Diana Mahoney Swales (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Abstract

The lack of grave goods in cemeteries from later Anglo‐Saxon England (eighth to 11th century AD) has in the past been interpreted as reflecting standardisation of burial rites dictated by Christian doctrine. This study employed a biocultural approach to investigate whether variations in mortuary practices such as burial location, grave form, and body disposition within the eighth to 12th‐century Black Gate Cemetery, Newcastle‐upon‐Tyne represented alternative mediums of social display.

Skeletal markers commonly associated with early life stress (cribra orbitalia and linear enamel hypoplasia), non‐specific stress (tibial periosteal lesions and maxillary sinusitis), oral health (calculus, caries, abscesses, and ante‐mortem tooth loss), and biomechanical stress (appendicular and spinal degenerative joint disease and trauma) were examined macroscopically on the skeletal remains of 643 individuals. The aim of the analysis was to investigate whether patterns in age, sex, and biological stress in the different burial locations, burial types, and body positions evidenced social status or sociocultural relationships between the different mortuary practices.

Demographic and biocultural analysis revealed the inclusion of males, females, non‐adults, and the elderly in all of the mortuary practices, and no evidence for marked inequalities in biological stress between those afforded the different burial practices. The dominant influence for non‐significant trends in the stress data was variation in age‐structure between different areas of burial. However, non‐significant but consistently higher frequencies of stress indicators were observed in graves containing stone inclusions (pillow stones, head‐cists, and earmuffs) compared with those constructed from stone (cists and rubble cists) and plain burials, all burial practices with a similar mortality profile.

The distribution of age and stress indicators between the mortuary practices placed in the wider sociocultural context provided a deeper insight into the complex contribution of social relationships, life‐course, pragmatism, regional and temporal trends, and cultural and religious beliefs upon treatment of the deceased.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Early online date11 Dec 2018
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Dec 2018

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Keywords

  • Early medieval
  • stress indicators
  • mortuary archaeology
  • social-status

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