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Publication - Professor Joanna Bruck

    Women, death and social change in the British Bronze Age


    Bruck, J, 2009, ‘Women, death and social change in the British Bronze Age’. Norwegian Archaeological Review, vol 42., pp. 1-23


    Both cremation and inhumation were employed in the British Early Bronze Age, and the significance of the distinction between these practices has long been a matter of debate. Many authors have argued that the choice of mortuary treatment reflects differences in status. Inhumation burials often occupied central positions in Early Bronze Age barrows, while cremations were placed in satellite locations. In turn, the apparent gender differences between these mortuary rites – men tended to be inhumed while women were frequently cremated – is seen as indicating that women were of lower status than men. This paper will challenge this model, arguing that cremation was a strategy designed to facilitate the retention and circulation of ancestral relics by fragmenting the human body. As such, the differential treatment of men and women was not the result of status distinctions, but reflects their different positions and roles within Early Bronze Age kinship structures. In particular, the circulation of the cremated remains of the female dead played an important role in facilitating social, material and biological reproduction through the maintenance of inter-group relationships. The practice of cremation resulted in the construction of particular concepts of the self – concepts that underpinned the transformations in the technological practices and social landscapes that took place at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age. As such, women's roles in these changes must be considered afresh.

    Full details in the University publications repository