Late Bronze Age Funerary Practices

As with the Middle Bronze Age, and in common with other parts of Scotland, evidence for the funerary practices of the Late Bronze Age is sparse. The contracted skeleton of an adult whose sex could not be determined was found in a cist at Golspie along with metalworker’s clay mould fragments, a pumice pendant, calcined bone and unburnt animal bone; it was dated for the Beaker People Project to 1000–830 cal BC (Parker Pearson et al 2019, 501 [Sk 43]; Woodham and MacKenzie 1957). It is impossible to determine whether the clay mould fragments were deposited at the same time as the body, but if they were, this would imply that the deceased may have been a metalworker. Isotopic analysis of the skeleton showed that the person had grown up locally (Parker Pearson et al 2019, 414, 426). There is also a possibility that the moulds and cremated remains are a later insertion, and further analysis could shed light on this theory.

The Late Bronze Age re-use of sites or monuments that were already ancient for the deposition of cremated human remains is attested at Stoneyfield, Raigmore. One such deposit from this site has recently been radiocarbon-dated to 1053–895 cal BC, despite sharing a pit with sherds of Grooved Ware pottery and a Late Neolithic petit tranchet derivative arrowhead (Copper et al 2018, 216; Case Study Stoneyfield/Raigmore Neolithic Building and Bronze Age Cairn). Reuse of older monuments for burial is also attested at the Early Bronze Age Clava ring-cairn at Newton of Petty, where several pits containing cremated human remains were dug into the cairn between 1000 BC and 800 BC (Bradley 2000, 131–59). At the Clava passage tomb at Balnuaran of Clava Southwest, new pits for cremated remains were dug into the cairn around 1000–900 BC (ibid, 119–20, illus 106; see also Boyle 2000, 87–9). The small ring-cairn at Balnuaran of Clava South, by contrast, is believed to have been constructed and used to house cremated remains around 1000–900 BC (Bradley 2000, 119–20, illus 106).

The late date of the Golspie cist burial cautions archaeologists from interpreting all cists as being of Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age in date. Other sites where the dating should induce caution include cists from Balintore, Easter Ross, where two of the bodies have been dated to the Neolithic (MHG6341; Sheridan et al 2018). Taken together, this evidence shows the necessity to radiocarbon date as many of the buried individuals as possible.

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