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Name:Nathan Mark Gubbins 

PhD: Archaeology/Prehistory

Thesis Title: Why did People Bury Things? Understanding changing Depositional Practices from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.


Thesis Description:

What made people deposit objects in the ground during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age in Britain? Bronze Age deposits often centre around metal items and are referred to as ‘hoards’ whereas Neolithic equivalents tended to comprise multiple materials such as pottery, flint, and animal bones in different ways, and are only rarely referred to as hoard. This project, through the comparison of regional case studies, aims to query the conceptual divide between depositional practices in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

Drawing on developing theoretical approaches, such as new materialism and assemblage theory, my study will offer a new interpretation of depositional practices through the Neolithic and Bronze Age, which acknowledges the complexity of the relationships that people had with material objects as well the potential agency of all things. This will build on, but challenge, Garrow’s (2012) critique of ‘structured deposition’ by better accounting for the processes integral to the emergence of depositional practices. Furthermore, I will question the divide that is often drawn between Neolithic and Bronze Age deposits by generating a narrative that uses a complex multi-temporal approach to time and change. This will challenge older and current models of change in which the transition between periods is privileged.

Our current scholarly understanding of deliberate burial of artefacts in the Neolithic has been largely influenced by the concept of ‘structured deposition’ the idea that specific choices governed the conditions by which items came to be consigned in the ground. Bronze Age depositional practices, by contrast, are often centred on the hoarding of metalworking in preference to other kinds of material. Hence, between the Neolithic and Bronze Age, researchers have conceptualised depositional practice in very different ways. One notable exception is Richard Bradley’s work (1990; 2017), although this relies upon a teleological explanation of change and accords no agency to the material objects themselves. It is crucial therefore that new theoretical research fully interrogates the nature of depositional practices and how they change across the Neolithic and Bronze Age. This PhD will thus provide a detailed critique of the concepts of both structured deposition and hoarding, exploiting three intensive regional case studies: East Anglia, Cumbria and Aberdeenshire.  I will build a detailed database of deposits based on local Historic Environment Records, the Portable Antiquity Scheme, and excavation reports. These regions has been selected because of their contrasting records of depositional practices.

This PhD will add to recent research which has begun to recognise the complex nature of the transition between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. For example, Crellin (2017) and Fowler (2013) have offered much more complex and nuanced interpretations for the emergence of the Bronze Age through studies of mortuary practices. This research will build on this work by producing a complex and nuanced history of depositional practices in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Moreover, it will also offer a new approach to deposition which will have implications for later prehistory, Roman, medieval and historical contexts.


Supervisors and Institution(s): Dr Oliver Harris and Dr Rachel Crellin (University of Leicester)


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