Socialized Violence

ontextualizing violence through mortuary behaviour in Iron Age Britain

Authored by: Sarah S. King

The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  December  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415842198
eBook ISBN: 9781315883366
Adobe ISBN: 9781134677979


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The Iron Age of Britain was a dynamic period on the cusp of history and prehistory, c. 750 BC to ad 43 (Brown 2009: 4; Cunliffe 2004: 32; Haselgrove et al. 2001). It can be further separated into three phases: Early Iron Age, c. 750 BC to 400 bc; Middle Iron Age, c. 400 BC to 100 bc; and Late Iron Age, c. 100 BC to first century ad (Cunliffe 2004: 32; Brown 2009: 4). The study of violence during this period has had the opposite historical trajectory to most other anthropological studies of violence. Rather than a peaceful egalitarian period, it was initially described as an era of endemic violence. Violence here is defined as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation” (World Health Organization 2012). Enclosed settlements were identified as defensive structures and elaborate weapons were assumed to be tools of war. As post-processual theories developed, sites and weapons were reinterpreted as ritual symbols, effectively pacifying the Iron Age of Britain. This led to a dearth of thorough treatments of violence in the literature (for discussion of these shifts in interpretation see Armit 2007, 2011: 502; James 2007). Recently, however, there has been a growing body of literature addressing the topic of violence and warfare during the Iron Age (e.g. Aldhouse-Green 2004, 2005; Armit 2007, 2011; Craig et al. 2005; Finney 2006; Giles 2008; Redfern 2006, 2008a, 2009).

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