Review: Ritual and Domestic Life in Prehistoric Europe by Richard Bradley (2005) Assessment 8 out of 10

Thought provoking, if not the easiest read.

Bradley suggests that pits, where grain was stored over the winter, were a metaphor for regeneration. The grain was buried and then planted in spring, coming back to life. Pits were cleaned and reused until they became the place of special deposits. These included animals and quern stones, but also bodies. Bradley doesn’t think these burials were aberrant, as some have thought, those of social outcasts or deviants.

He describes two contrasting but equivalent records for the late Bronze Age and Iron Age, in England and the near Continent, pit burials , in Sweden, Denmark and northern Germany , house urns, These aren’t common, found in 10 % of Swedish cemeteries. They were originally thought to represent houses, but are now thought to represent corn stores. Corn, to be planted in the spring, was kept in stores. House urns, in which cremation remains were placed, were a metaphor for grain storage.

Both represent re-generation, even Ancestor ritual. The seed is reborn in the next year’s harvest. The deceased deposited in the grain pit, or their remains in the house urn, is reborn in the next generation.

Bradley’s central thesis is that in the prehistoric past the distinction between practical and ritual did not exist. Metalwork was associated with magic. Deposits could at the same time be caches of value and votive depositions.

Academics have tried to establish social, political and economic change from patterns in the archaeological record, attributing to ritual the unexplained or inexplicable. Bradley turns this view on its head suggesting that it is ritual which gives pattern to the archaeological record.

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