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Patterns of Irregular Burials in Western Europe (1st-5th Century AD)

Abstract : Background :Irregular burials (IB-burials showing features that contrast with the majority of others in their geographic and chronological context) have been the focus of archaeological study because of their relative rarity and enigmatic appearance. Interpretations of IB often refer to supposed fear of the dead or to social processes taking place in time-specific contexts. However, a comprehensive and quantitative analysis of IB for various geographical contexts is still lacking, a fact that hampers any discussion of these burials on a larger scale. Methods :Here, we collected a bibliographic dataset of 375 IB from both Britain and Continental Europe, altogether spanning a time period from the 1st to the 5th century AD. Each burial has been coded according to ten dichotomous variables, further analyzed by means of chi-squared tests on absolute frequencies, non-metric multidimensional scaling, and cluster analysis. Results :Even acknowledging the limits of this study, and in particular the bias represented by the available literature, our results point to interesting patterns. Geographically, IB show a contrast between Britain and Continental Europe, possibly related to historical processes specific to these regions. Different types of IB (especially prone depositions and depositions with the cephalic extremity displaced) present a series of characteristics and associations between features that permit a more detailed conceptualization of these occurrences from a socio-cultural perspective that aids to elucidate their funerary meaning. Conclusions and Significance :Altogether, the present work stresses the variability of IB, and the need to contextualize them in a proper archaeological and historical context. It contributes to the discussion of IB by providing a specific geographic and chronological frame of reference that supports a series of hypotheses about the cultural processes possibly underlying their occurrence.
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Marco Milella, Valentina Mariotti, Giovanna Maria Belcastro, Christopher J Knüsel. Patterns of Irregular Burials in Western Europe (1st-5th Century AD). PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2015, pp.1-16. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0130616⟩. ⟨hal-01201832⟩

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