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Title: Contextualising deviancy : a regional approach to decapitated inhumation in late Roman Britain
Author: Crerar, Belinda Joan
ISNI:       0000 0004 5350 9695
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2014
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The focus of the thesis is the poorly-understood rite of decapitated inhumation which was practiced predominantly in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD in Britain. Previous studies have often involved the accumulation of data on decapitated inhumations themselves and cross analysis of examples. Conclusions drawn on the meaning of the rite almost invariably place it in opposition to 'normal' Late Romano-British funerary behaviour and consequently interpret decapitation as reflecting negatively on the social identity of the deceased. Because of this, decapitated inhumations are commonly referred to as 'deviant burials' in academic literature. This thesis argues that the interpretation of decapitated burial as 'deviant' is an artificial product of the methodologies employed in its analysis. The lack of contextualisation within the mortuary structures of late Roman Britain has entrenched the view that decapitated burial stood in contrast to 'normal', 'acceptable' funerary behaviour. By using quantitative and qualitative analysis of funerary behaviour within three regional case studies, this thesis adopts a contextualising approach to decapitated burials in order to place these individuals in relation to the social parameters governing burial within the communities in which they are found. This analysis takes into account the settlement profiles and regional variations in mortuary practices particular to each area, to investigate how these impacted on the adoption and performance of decapitated burial. Other evidence for the fragmentation of human remains during the Roman period is also investigated and assessed in relation to the decapitation rite. It is concluded that, in all three case studies, the funerary treatment of decapitated persons may be aligned with the prevailing structures governing burial of non-decapitated individuals, despite the differences in funerary behaviour between each region. This implies that decapitated individuals were not treated in opposition to standard burial practices and that interpretations of them as 'deviant' are unsound. In addition, the need to consider wider contemporary burial habits in relation to decapitated inhumation, particularly those involving other forms of corpse fragmentation, is highlighted. Assessment of disarticulated and semi-articulated deposits of human remains demonstrates that parallels may be drawn between the processes that led to the deposition of this material and the processes surrounding decapitated inhumation. It is argued that decapitated inhumation should be understood as a facet of broader mortuary practices involving the fragmentation of human remains practiced in certain areas of Roman Britain, rather than being treated as an anomalous variation of supine extended inhumation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: AHRC ; University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: burial ; funeral rites ; human remains ; Roman ; Great Britain ; Roman Britain