Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Position of burials in chamber I at La Hoguette (Fontenay-le-Marmion), Calvados, displaying spatial arrangements according to sex.

Position of burials in chamber C at Condé-sur-Ifs, Calvados

In the area of north-western France, we note that inhumation of complete human bodies appears to have been quite common, although there were many expressions of this practice. Those buried in sépultures sous dalle (of the Malesherbes type) were simply placed crouched in grave pits, and at Orville an additional twenty individual graves surrounded such a sépulture sous dalle, only one individual being placed in extended position (Simonin et al. 1997). The Chamblandes cists, appearing around the middle of the fifth millennium BC, illustrate an interesting transition from initially single (occasionally double) inhumations to a collective practice over a period of about 1000 years (Leclerc and Tarrête 2006).

Complete bodies were also interred in some passage graves, for which the Normandy monuments of La Hoguette, La Hogue and Condé-sur-Ifs provide very interesting data, although some of them were excavated in the nineteenth century and thus the information is of a somewhat general nature. We noted previously that some of these mounds - La Hogue, La Hoguette and La Bruyère du Hamel at Condé-sur-Ifs - each comprising several passage graves, were conceived as a single architectural and structural project. Their plan and the layout of the chambers, as well as the nature of burials in each of them, strongly suggest that the number of persons to be interred may well have been projected at the time of construction (Chambon 2003b, 68). Indeed, the dental studies carried out with respect to the La Hoguette chambers present the possibility that these were designed for specific family groups (Piera 2003), although the mitochondrial DNA pattern of the bones from chamber C at Condé-sur-Ifs did not show any genetic connection among the ten individuals analysed (Chambon 2003b, 71).

In at least half of these chambers, complete bodies were deposited and allowed to decompose without any subsequent interference, with adults and children placed in a crouched position on either their left or their right side, although it is not possible to determine whether these represent simultaneous or successive placements. Chamber I at La Hoguette displays an interesting spatial arrangement in relation to sex and location: females were placed to the west and males to the east; those buried lying on their right side were mainly towards the back of the chamber, aligned with their backs to the wall. In chamber II the dead were roughly equidistant from one another, and in chamber C at Condé-sur-Ifs there was a bipartite division of burial space, with a sort of ‘corridor’ leaving the central zone of the chamber free.

The coherence of these individual burials contrasts with evidence from other chambers, either within the confines of the same monument (chambers IV and Vat La Hoguette) or at its close neighbour La Hogue; a similar pattern was observed at several chambers at Condé-sur-Ifs. These chambers reveal a more complex funerary practice, which may have included primary as well as secondary burials, and which most certainly involved a rearrangement of skeletal fragments. Some of the skulls in Condé-sur-Ifs (chambers A2, B and C) are found at a considerable distance from the actual skeleton, lacking mandibles or facial parts; small slabs ‘protect’ skull fragments in chamber IV at La Hoguette, and long bones also show displacement. The most dramatic evidence of manipulation comes from Vierville B, where three layers of human remains are separated by slab pavements.

La Hoguette is particularly interesting in this context, as both forms of burial seem to have been practised, albeit within different chambers. This is one monument at which division of sex seems to have been of some concern to the community that used it, and it is possible that other considerations were also expressed through the differential treatment of the dead – in this case leaving some bodies to rest in peace and rearranging the bones of others.


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