Neolithic cave burials

Agency, structure and environment

Author: Rick Peterson

The book studies Neolithic burial in Britain by focussing primarily on evidence from caves. It interprets human remains from forty-eight Neolithic caves and compares them to what we know of Neolithic collective burial elsewhere in Britain and Europe. It provides a contextual archaeology of these cave burials, treating them as important evidence for the study of Neolithic mortuary practice generally. It begins with a thoroughly contextualized review of the evidence from the karst regions of Europe. It then goes on to provide an up-to-date and critical review of the archaeology of Neolithic funerary practice. This review uses the ethnographically documented concept of the ‘intermediary period’ in multi-stage burials to integrate archaeological evidence, cave sedimentology and taphonomy. Neolithic caves and environments and the dead bodies within them would also have been perceived as active subjects with similar kinds of agency to the living. The book demonstrates that cave burial was one of the earliest elements of the British Neolithic. It also shows that Early Neolithic cave burial practice was very varied, with many similarities to other Neolithic burial rites. However, by the Middle Neolithic, cave burial had changed and a funerary practice which was specific to caves had developed.

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‘Neolithic Cave Burials is important reading for anyone interested in Neolithic Britain, funerary practice, prehistoric landscapes or cave archaeology. It is a valuable book, one that provides the first comprehensive review of the subject and leaves us in no doubt as to the significance of caves as ritual and funerary loci in the limestone landscapes of Neolithic Britain.
Marion Dowd, Institute of Technology Sligo, Ireland
The Prehistoric Society

‘Peterson’s wealth of experience in the excavation of prehistoric archaeological sites has enabled him to collate and reappraise the evidence for a large number of Neolithic cave burial sites, and the book is an important and timely addition to the literature on cave archaeology.
Andrew Chamberlain, University of Manchester
Cave and Karst Science 46/2

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