Chapter 4: Identity and agency at Windmill Hill and Etton
Windmill Hill is probably the most famous causewayed enclosure in Britain, the eponymous type-site for one of Piggot’s Early Neolithic cultures. First excavated in the 1920s by Alexander Keiller, it has since seen excavations in the 1960s (Smith 1965) and in the 1980s (Whittle et al. 1999). Constructed in the middle of the fourth millennium BC on the chalk downlands of North Wiltshire, the enclosure lies over the brow of a low, broad hill (Whittle 1993, 34), which stands out in the local landscape (Whittle et al. 2000, 132). The enclosure would have been set in a largely wooded environment, where clearances were rare. Windmill Hill entered a landscape that was already replete with monuments; some 20 long barrows lie within 10 kilometres of the site (Whittle et al. 1999, 7)(fig. 5). These include Horslip, West Kennet and Millbarrow. Not all of these are earlier than Windmill Hill but many are and the rest are contemporary with its use.
Figure 5: Map of monuments around Windmill Hill (from Whittle et al. 1999, 6)
The enclosure itself is made up of three circles; the inner and middle were laid down first, the outer added later and at its widest is some 360 metres in diameter (Whittle et al. 1999, 7) (fig. 6). The ditches when opened would have been white from the exposed chalk, the bones of the land itself revealed. All sorts of material was deposited in its ditches: human and animal bone, pottery, flint, and stone (Whittle and Pollard 1999, 384). However the nature of deposition was different in each of the ditches, the outer ditch containing more articulated animal bone, human burials, decorated pottery and unworked antler. The middle ditch by comparison contained higher density of pottery generally, along with more articulated cattle bone, dog bone and carved chalk. The inner ditch contained much less articulated bone, but the bone that was deposited appeared fully processed and this has led Whittle et al. to argue that middening may have taken place in the centre of the enclosure (1999, 371).
Figure 6: Plan of Windmill Hill (after Whittle et al. 1999, 13)
Indeed the comparative depositions summarised in the table below (fig. 7) and the setting of the enclosure has led to the general interpretation represented in the drawing by Josh Pollard also reproduced below (Whittle and Pollard 1999, fig. 227) (fig. 8). Other important themes at Windmill Hill include the deposition of special items at the terminals of ditches. Important items, particularly cattle skulls, were often deposited against the causeways (Whittle et al. 1999, 359). In addition a few pits were dug inside the enclosure, and others have been found under the outer circuit, and may have been open when the inner and middle ditches were dug. We will return in detail to other aspects of the interpretation of this site and the detail of the deposits in a moment when we begin to discuss identity, but first we must discuss the layout and setting of the other enclosure on which we will focus, Etton.
Articulated animal bone groups (including entire burials of pig and goat), human bone including infant burials; decorated pottery vessels with carinations and plain with heavy rims; flint tools more frequent by percentage; scrapers and axe fragments more common here than elsewhere; unworked antler more frequent.
Articulated groups of cattle bone; dog bone groups; pottery includes large percentage of uncarinated decorated vessels; high densities of pottery generally; worked sarsen, worked bone and antler, and carved chalk more frequent here than elsewhere
Large-scale deposition of groups of fully processed bone in dark soil; articulated bone groups rare; high density of flint; denticulated flakes and knives proportionately more frequent.
Figure 7: Difference in deposition between the three circuits (after Whittle et al. 1999, table 197).
Figure 8: Interpretation of Windmill Hill, drawn by Josh Pollard (from Whittle and Pollard 1999, fig. 227).
Etton, near Maxey, in Cambridgeshire (fig. 9) lies on a low-lying plain on the fringes of the Fenland (Pryor 1988, 107). Excavated in the 1980s it had extraordinary preservation due to the waterlogged conditions and dates to the mid 4th millennium BC. Shaped like a squashed oval, Etton is small in comparison to other causewayed enclosures (Pryor 1998, xix). A stream cut past the northwest of the enclosure, which would have been still active while the site was in use (Pryor 1998, 4). Unlike Windmill Hill there was only a single ditch circuit consisting of 14 segments, although more may well have existed at the south end, now hidden by the Maxey cut (fig. 10). There appear to be three particular entrance causeways, at the east, west and north, and a fourth might have existed to the South. The North entrance, at causeway F, appears to be particularly important as a three-meter wide wooden gateway was constructed here (Pryor 1998, 99). Like Windmill Hill a huge range of material, both organic and inorganic, was deposited in the ditch, including pottery, axe fragments, human and animal bone, along with wood and bark (Pryor 1998). There were no burials however, unlike at Windmill Hill and the nearby site at Etton Woodgate only 80 metres to the west (Pryor 1998, 372). Etton Woodgate consisted of a series of postholes and pits along with a single ditch segment (Pryor 1998, 372). There was also a single crouched inhumation (Pryor 1998, 372).
Returning to Etton itself, the enclosure appears to have been defined as two halves from the outset, each half on either side of the north entrance (Pryor 1998, 356). The difference between each half can be shown in a number of areas. There is an absolute physical difference as the west half is far wetter (Pryor 1998, 364). The ditches in the western half, that is ditches 1-5, were waterlogged. Pryor argues that this was a deliberate choice made in prehistory, and I think that is a reasonable conclusion. There are areas nearby, such as the Maxey island where the enclosure could have been situated on dry ground. Instead Etton was placed in a location that would have been flooded for part of the year and half of the ditches would have been permanently water logged (Pryor 1998, 364). Coppiced trees grew in the third waterlogged ditch. Other differences between the two halves of the enclosure are also clear. For example, in terms of the deposition, pottery was excluded from much of the western half and wood and bark from much of the east. It is important to note that this latter example is not merely a preservational issue, as some wood was found later in the sequence in the eastern half.
Figure 9: Map of the location of Etton, with nearby towns (after Pryor 1998, 1).
Etton also had a large number of small filled pits inside the enclosure ditch. These pits were opened and then deliberately backfilled. Items were deposited in these pits that complemented and reflected the deposition in the ditches (Pryor 1998, 103). Often these pits had a particular capping artefact such as the polished stone axe in pit F263 (Pryor 1998, 103). Interestingly despite the long-term sequence over which these pits were dug, and the large number of them, they on no occasion intercut (Pryor 1998). This at the very least shows the existence of long term memory, running over the lifetime of any one individual (Pryor 1998; cf. Connerton 1989). On the longer ditch segments small filled pits were often clustered round the butt-end or terminals of ditch segments (Pryor 1998, 103). This, combined with an emphasis on special deposits in the ditch ends themselves shows that the ends of ditches were just as important at Etton as they were at Windmill Hill. Again we will deal with these deposits in detail when we move on to discuss identity and deposition explicitly.
Figure 10: Plan of phase 1 features at Etton (from Pryor 1998, 100).
There is a more discernable sequence of depositions at Etton, partly due to the fact that the entire enclosure was excavated, and partly due to the nature of deposits and alterations that took place. In his excavation report, Pryor divides the first phase, that is the main period of the enclosures use into three subsections, 1a, 1b and 1c. The later Neolithic use of the site, which includes pit digging and the construction of a cursus is known as phase 2 (Pryor 1998, 16-17). The ditches were originally cut in phase 1a and then, in the eastern half at least, recut, with new, increasingly more complex deposits being laid through phases 1b and 1c. Also during these periods the structure of the enclosure was altered through the creation of a fence and ditch dividing the enclosure in two. The small filled pits largely date to phase 1 though it is unclear to which section. This phasing will be important as it allows us to examine how different concerns developed over time, through increasingly complex acts of deposition.
Having briefly described the layout and sequence of the two sites, it is time now to turn our attention to how the architecture, rituals and depositions allowed different forms of identity to emerge and how they in turn reflected, maintained and subverted these identities. In order to do this we will examine four areas. The first of these surrounds the metaphor of inclusion and exclusion, as this will allow us to explore the architecture of these sites further. We will then move through age, human animal relations and gender. We begin however with how the architecture and performances at Windmill Hill and Etton created particular opportunities for inclusion and exclusion to be stressed, and how this may have affected identity at these sites.
Inclusion and exclusion
We have already seen how Judith Butler argues that aspects of identity such as gender or sexuality are created against an abjected other (1993, 188). One way that this might have been done at Etton and Windmill Hill is through architecture, architecture which acts to stress inclusion and exclusion to differing degrees. Such action is doubly affective as the architecture also acts to exclude the day-to-day world and thus allows ritualisation to take place (Bell 1992). Ritualisation, as we have, seen privileges certain actions above and beyond the quotidian, and thus increases their importance (Bell 1992, 74). The architecture of enclosures in general, as I argued earlier, does exactly this. The impact of action within the enclosures of Windmill Hill and Etton are thus ritualised, they become more powerful than they would elsewhere. Thus when identities were referred to and regulatory ideals cited, it had particular impact at these enclosures, particularly through the way that some people, identities, and groups were included, and others excluded, abjected and cast out (Butler 1993). We shall now examine the architecture and setting of the two enclosures to begin to see how such processes of inclusion and exclusion can be understood.
Inclusion and exclusion through architecture and setting at Windmill Hill
Whittle and Pollard argue that inclusion is one of the "base metaphors" at Windmill Hill (1999, 386). This, they argue, can be seen from the circular nature of the site and the permeable nature of the enclosure ditches (Whittle and Pollard 1999, 386). They are certainly correct in this. Yet exclusion is also a theme that runs through the enclosure. The ditches provide barriers that have to be crossed, and can only be crossed at certain places. People left behind, outside the outer ditch, or between the outer and middle ditches, were excluded as much as they were included. The decreasing area enclosed by each circuit, precluded as many people being included within the inner circuit as were within the outer. The space within Windmill Hill may thus have been differentially graded (Whittle and Pollard 1999, 387). Such differences offer opportunities for differing notions of identity to be drawn up, whether on lines of age, gender or status. The same can be said as people crossed the narrow causeways; these would have to be traversed in a certain order, as not everyone could cross at once. Leading and following provides another way of differentiating people, of including some and excluding others (Edmonds 1993, 111). These need not be negative or indeed positive distinctions, that is a modern imposition. But nevertheless they were indeed distinctions, created through inclusion and exclusion that would impact upon people’s identity. By leading the way to the inner areas a particular person would have been citing a regulatory ideal about themselves, behaving in a way that people, enmeshed in the habitus would agree was appropriate, and in so doing reinforce that ideal.
Such positions could be challenged however. Windmill Hill when it was first constructed only consisted of two circuits, the inner and middle ditches as they are now (Whittle et al. 1999, 352). Perhaps the third circuit was added to increase the numbers that could be included within the enclosure thereby increasing the emphasis on inclusion at the expense of exclusion. The adult male burial that predated the outer bank was included within the enclosure with the digging of the outer ditch (Whittle et al. 1999). Perhaps this was a metaphor for a wider act of inclusion that the moment of construction represented. Indeed perhaps it shows how the identity of people was still open for negotiation even after their death. Such actions can have unintended consequences however; the outer ditch also offered new possibilities for people to be differentiated. Thus even within an act of inclusion, opportunities for exclusion and selection emerge.
Such actions of exclusion within inclusion can also be seen in terms of the landscape setting of Windmill Hill. Windmill Hill stands out in the local topography, and is a highly visible site (Whittle et al. 1999, 347). This may well have been the case even in the heavily wooded landscape that surrounded Windmill Hill during the Early Neolithic. Windmill Hill, Whittle and Pollard point out, contains a representation of almost every aspect of Neolithic life (1999, 384). Furthermore though the enclosure was a model for Neolithic life, the circular ditch represented the horizon, and the enclosure itself acted as a metonym for landscape, the causeways representing the paths that people had trod for millennia. All of this was set within woodland, just as Neolithic life around Windmill Hill was set within woodland. The enclosure thus acted as inclusion itself; it literally included almost the entirety of Neolithic existence, including the landscape itself. Yet within this it acted to exclude; the causeways separated the ditches from each other and the ditches separated up the enclosure. The woodland too, perhaps a dangerous and mythical place on the one hand, yet a place where so much of Neolithic life was led was also excluded. All of this provided potent metaphors and opportunities for differing identities and relationships to be created, along the lines of age and gender, and also between people and animals.
Let us now turn to Etton and see how the very different nature of its architecture and setting allowed themes of inclusion and exclusion to be played out in very different ways.
Inclusion and exclusion through architecture and setting at Etton
Etton, in setting, provides an obvious and immediate contrast with Windmill Hill. It is located in a cleared landscape, and is low lying. The enclosure, as I have mentioned, would have been flooded for at least part of the year and thus would have been hidden from site, unavailable, until the retreating waters revealed it. Different metaphors are thus at play at Etton than were at Windmill Hill, but we can still access many forms of both inclusion and exclusion through its architecture.
Once again the permeable boundary of the enclosure ditch acts both to exclude and include in a single action. At Etton there is only a single ditch however, so there is not the grading of space that we find at Windmill Hill (Whittle et al. 1999). Other ways of differentiating between people exist however. There were probably four major entrances to Etton set at the cardinal points; these would offer opportunities to differentiate people. Who entered through which entrance? Who entered through the main gateway at the northern entrance? Again, as at Windmill Hill, entrances create questions around leading and following that allow differences to be emphasised (Edmonds 1993, 111). Within the enclosure, other aspects of architecture created hidden areas that could exclude or include different people. There is a "clear reserved area" south and east of the gateway at the northern entrance (Pryor 1998, 99). A fence that ran south from the gateway for some 40 metres marked this reserved area (Pryor 1998, 100) (fig. 10). This fence would have hidden from view the cluster of small filled pits immediately to the southwest of the northern gateway. This would have acted to exclude certain people elsewhere in the enclosure from witnessing the events that took place around these pits. In doing so it would have further enhanced the actions that took place behind it, reinforcing particular regulatory ideals through the power of ritualisation (Butler 1993; Bell 1992).
As we move into phase 1c at Etton further alterations to the enclosure continue to emphasise the principle of inclusion/exclusion. Ditch segment 5, closest to the stream had become increasingly wet during phase 1 and by phase 1c was part of the stream itself (Pryor 1998, 103). In order to deal with this, a new ditch was dug, F313, which began at causeway F (the northern entrance) and made its way southwest, cutting off segment 5 and possibly segments 4 and 3 from the rest of the enclosure (Pryor 1998, 106) (fig. 11). This effectively created a new mini enclosure between the ditch F313 and ditch segments 3, 4 and 5 (Pryor 1998, 106). This new enclosure could only have been entered from the southwest, and was possibly guarded by some form of structure (Pryor 1998, 106), although it is far from clear what form this structure would have taken. Here then another area exists to exclude some people and include others. Phase 1c also sees further construction of a partition running down the centre of the enclosure made up of a ditch and a fence. There was a gap between the two allowing access between the two halves of the enclosure, but it appears that the principal of exclusion became more prominent at Etton over time.
Figure 11: Plan of modified structure at Etton (after Pryor 1998, 109)
Modern theatre? Audience participation at Windmill Hill and Etton
Perhaps the most obvious form in which the metaphors of inclusion and exclusion took place was through the roles of audience and participant at Windmill Hill and Etton. We will see later through our discussion of rites of passage and age how people might be included within certain groups, and how access to knowledge allowed certain roles to be played by certain people. A crucial question remains, who watched these rites of passage? Who saw the burning of animal bone and its deposition in small filled pits at Etton? Who saw and who understood the deposition of animal bone at Windmill Hill? So much is lost to us from the rituals at these sites; we are excluded from the visual and acoustic information that must have been central to the performances. Who spoke and who remained silent? Who understood and who did not? Who heard and who was absent? These questions remain central to our understanding of the habitus yet remain frustratingly difficult to answer. At Etton it seems clear that exclusion increasingly came to play a dominant role, through both the architecture and through the increasingly complex linear deposits of the eastern half. Smaller and increasingly more intimate gatherings took place, gatherings that watched the detail of complex acts of deposition, shielded from view by increasingly divisive architecture (Pryor 1998, 365). Perhaps knowledge became more specialised at Etton as more people became excluded. At Windmill Hill the reverse seems to have taken place. The addition of the outer circuit included what it had previously excluded, but at the same time it offered up new possibilities for differentiation within that act of inclusion. The experience of constructing these sites at the beginning would have laid the foundations for these metaphors to play out. As different groups, whether defined by kin or any other links, constructed different segments, they were simultaneously whole and divided, included and excluded, the same and differentiated. At Etton we can see this principal extended perhaps in the links between particular groups of small filled pits and particular ditch segments (Pryor 1998, 355). Overall the metaphor of inclusion and exclusion is crucial in understanding identity at both Windmill Hill and Etton but in very different ways.
Let us now turn to the role of age at Windmill Hill and Etton and examine how certain specific deposits and sequences allow us to begin to construct narratives around age and rites of passage. Through this and indeed through the later sections on human-animal relations and gender, the role of inclusion and exclusion will continue to be important.
Age and identity at Windmill Hill and Etton
Age in our society can be divided up into a number of categories following birth, and arriving eventually at death. Beginning with infancy we move through childhood, puberty, adolescence, adulthood, middle age, old age and finally decrepitude. Each of these categories, although associated with certain biological realities, are, as I demonstrated earlier, regulatory ideals laid down for us to live up to as we move through life. People of different ages are supposed to behave in different, appropriate, ways. Often moving from one category to the next involves a rite of passage. Within Christian belief, there are rites of passage of christening, confirmation and marriage that take place to mark people’s movement through life and are intimately connected with age. In other places other rites of passage are recorded, to do with menstruation and circumcision for example (e.g. M. Strathern 1988). In the Neolithic, age would have been an important consideration; it would have reflected experience and knowledge just as it would today. These similarities should not prevent us from considering how different ways of thinking about age might be involved however. Different regulatory ideals might exist for different ages, associated with different rites of passage. We also need to consider how knowledge might be tied up in this, knowledge of the location of the two enclosures, of what was appropriate to deposit and where. These knowledges may have developed with age, as people became more immersed in the habitus, in the knowledge of how to go on. How old people were would affect how often they had been to the enclosure, the rituals and ceremonies they had seen and experienced before, which in turn would both draw on memories already laid down, and put new ones in place. How can we begin to think about age in the Neolithic? The first way in begins with the concept of rites of passage.
Age and rites of passage
The concept of rites of passage that I intend to use was first developed by the anthropologist Van Gennep (1960). It has seen since extensive application in both anthropology and archaeology (e.g. Bloch and Parry 1982; Barrett 1994). This concept is based on a tripartite system of separation, liminality and incorporation. Thus when a rite of passage takes place the person is first separated from the group, they then go through a liminal phase, betwixt and between normal life, and are then reincorporated again (Van Gennep 1960). I believe that close examination of the deposits at Windmill Hill and Etton can reveal narratives that allow us to talk about how age might have been conceived in the Neolithic, through rites of passage. Ethnographically recorded societies such as the Himba do not count age by the number of years, but by the stage a person has reached (Crandall 1998, 108). Each of these stages may be associated with a rite-of-passage such as circumcision. It is my argument that many of the deposits at Windmill Hill and Etton are intimately connected with such rites. Each of these deposits may well be open to multiple readings, but I hope that I can indicate how certain narratives, certain ways of living within the material conditions of life, might be more likely than others. The first example of this can be taken from Etton.
Ditch segment 7 lies in the eastern half of the enclosure at Etton, which saw the more complex structured deposits. The phase 1a deposits in this ditch are of particular interest. Beginning at the butt-end at causeway H, and moving away, a sequence of deposits was laid down. The first deposit was a severed inverted fox skull, followed by an upturned Mildenhall bowl, a decorated antler comb and a second vessel, this time a plain bowl placed on its base, with two animal bones nearby (Pryor 1998, 33) (fig. 12).
Figure 12: Deposits in phase 1a of ditch segment 7 (after Pryor 1998, 33).
A narrative can be constructed around these deposits related to age, regulatory ideals and rites of passage. The deposits were laid out along the ditch bottom; this would have allowed many people to watch as they were laid out. The initial deposit was the fox skull. This can be interpreted in two ways: it can be seen as a symbol of the wild, the outside, external to the community, but it could also be seen as totemistic, symbolic of another group perhaps. Perhaps these explanations can be combined, the initial deposit as it was laid down would have represented both an external group, and that perhaps that group was seen as dangerous, wild and external. The fact that the fox skull was severed also suggests ritual performance, the cutting off of the head before an audience and then depositing it the ground could create powerful metaphors around the taming of the wild. The next deposit was the upturned pot. In the excavation report Pryor points out the similarity between the upturned pot and a skull (1998, 370). The similarity is quite striking. We can also connect pots and skulls in other ways; they both act as containers for example. Skulls contain the brain, eyes and, if one includes the jaw, also the tongue. Pots obviously act as containers, holding water, milk, grain or even blood. But the comparison between the upturned pot and the skull is a peculiarly archaeological one, made in the context of what people find during excavation. The pot could equally represent a human head, as opposed to a skull. The comparison as a container continues to hold, but our emphasis is moved slightly away from the skull, and thus slightly away from death. If the upturned pot represented a human head, perhaps this represented the person who was going through the rite of passage. Next in line was the antler comb, which lay some 40cm from the upturned pot (Pryor 1998, 33). This I argue represents a liminal deposit. The antler comes from a deer, a wild animal, which has then been worked on to transform it into a domestic tool, a comb. Thus the antler comb lies betwixt and between the wild and domestic, neither one nor the other. Its separation from the fox skull and upturned pot is important from this point of view. It is separated both physically as well as ritually from the previous deposits. The final deposit was the small flat-based plain bowl, this time the right way up again separated by 40cm from the previous deposit (Pryor 1998, 33). This I believe is more clearly a pot, but it still has qualities that transcend its functional characteristics. The pot represented domesticity, the group themselves, maybe made somewhere away from the wet lowlands in which Etton lay. It perhaps spoke of those different lands, perhaps where other, less mobile members of the community resided. As with the first deposits it was separated both metaphorically and physically from the antler comb.
So we have a sequence of deposits moving from the wild and violently removed fox skull and upturned pot, through the liminal antler comb to the domestic pot. This follows the tripartite system we discussed earlier, from separation, through liminality to re-incorporation. So what narrative could we attach to this rite of passage? To me it speaks of the incorporation of an outsider into a particular community, the change in someone’s identity from an outsider to an insider. The fox skull represents the wild from which the person came; it might also have been the symbol of their old group; the violent removal of the head providing a metaphor for the removal of the person from their old society. Then the upturned pot, close to the fox skull, represented the person involved, then after the 40cm comes the antler comb. This literal physical separation represents the separate liminal nature of this comb. Other events may have taken place whilst this was being laid in the ground perhaps directly involving the person involved. After the comb came a second 40cm gap, then the second pot representing the incorporation of the person into their new community.
Here then we have an individual being incorporated into the community, through action that was not only performative but also transformative (Seremetakis 1991, 2). Throughout this different regulatory ideals were being cited through performance. The audience, perhaps filled with people of different ages watched, remained silent or spoke at the appropriate times. This would act as education to the younger members as they were inculcated in the ways of acting, the habitus, that was already unthinking for the older members of the group. Perhaps people from the person’s old group might also have been there, watching as their friend and relative joined another group. Different emotions may thus have been involved on each side. Indeed different understandings might have been had by different people on each side, about the nature of the rite, and indeed its efficacy. What one community might have perceived as a safe item might be seen by another as dangerous (A. Strathern and Stewart 1999). The person themselves, by moving between communities behaved as they might have been expected, but equally perhaps their move was an act of rebellion, a way of undermining particular regulatory ideals. More likely though the regular movement of people between groups was just one form of exchange that took place. These exchanges would have happened when people were of an appropriate age. Thus I believe this rite of passage shows the incorporation of a person, perhaps in their teens, at a key moment in their lifecourse, when their identity changed.
Age and knowledge
Another way in which age can be accessed is through a consideration of knowledge and the particular roles older people play. If we return to the rite of passage detailed above, we can see how knowledge and co-ordination played a crucial role throughout the rite. Only certain people would have had the knowledge of what deposits were appropriate in what particular order to bring about the incorporation of a person within the group. In doing so, this act of performativity cited earlier performances when other people had been incorporated, thus reinforcing the regulatory ideals surrounding the old and the wise.
Other areas of Etton can show clearly how knowledge and memory were important. I have already mentioned the lack of inter-cutting of the small filled pits at Etton. Some of these may have been marked such as by the quern that stuck out from pit F711 (Pryor 1998, 103). Upturned turfs may have marked the locations of others (Pryor 1998). Nonetheless the majority of them would have faded away, their locations remembered only by those who were "in-the-know". Remembering their locations might not have been the job of a single individual, and that knowledge would have been passed on to the next generation. Nonetheless access to such knowledge would have privileged certain people within the architecture of Etton, giving them special roles within the ceremonies, which they could reiterate and thus reinforce through performance. Even the later phase 2 pits still respect the location of all the small filled pits at Etton, indicating the continuing importance of memory and knowledge. These roles might have reflected the understanding people had of the older members of the community, built up through the habitus and quotidian life.
It can also be argued that there is an increasing emphasis upon knowledge and memory through time at Etton, as the deposits become increasingly complex. Yet they still respect previous deposits, both physically and thematically. An example of such increased complexity can be drawn from the phase 1c deposits in ditch segment 8 for example (Pryor 1998, 34). This consists of a complex linear spread of material characteristic of phase 1c deposits across the site. The spread includes a shard of polished stone axe, animal bone, a large number of flints, a piece of human skull, pottery sherds, a piece of decorated limestone, and a pitted cranoid (Pryor 1998, 34) (fig. 13). By a pitted cranoid I mean a small stone ball with a pecked hole at the base that represents a human skull. This lay next to a flat piece of limestone and would have originally lain on top of it (Pryor 1998, 34). The pecked hole thus would have pointed vertically down and would have represented the forum magnum of the human skull (Pryor 1998, 34).
Figure 13: Complex deposit in segment 8, including bone, pottery and stone. Note the pitted cranoid on the right hand side of the photo (from Pryor 1998, 36).
The complexity of this deposit, compared say with the phase 1a deposit from segment 7 we examined earlier, is clear. Such a deposit is far more complex to create a narrative around, indeed I do not intend to offer one here. Instead I think it is important to recognise that such complexity would also have been apparent in the past. Thus the knowledge required not only to interpret but also to dictate what deposits were appropriate must have been greater than in phase 1a. This shows therefore the increasing emphasis upon knowledge through time at Etton, perhaps resulting in the increasing importance of certain older members of the community. Equally however this offers us an opportunity to think about how different members of the community, or indeed members of different communities watching depositions like this may have had very different understandings of what was going on (cf. A. Strathern and Stewart 1999). The items deposited in certain orders may have been open to multiple, contradictory readings in the past, just as they are in the present, and this might have allowed the authority of certain persons to be challenged.
Thus we have two examples of how we can begin to think about age through the enclosure at Etton, one involving the analysis of a particular deposit, the other associated with more general analysis of memory and differential access to knowledge. At Windmill Hill there are also deposits that can begin to clue us in to how people thought about age, notably through the burial of infant skeletons.
Infancy, death and identity at Windmill Hill
There is a particular association at Windmill Hill with child burial (Whittle et al. 1999). Indeed several infant bones have been discovered in interesting contexts. In one segment of the outer ditch, labelled by Keiller as outer ditch III, a crouched inhumation of a child was found, close to the skeleton of a pig (Pollard 1999, 33). The terminal deposit in middle ditch XI included an infant skull again associated with pig bone (Pollard 1999, 36). Another infant skeleton was recovered in the 1965 excavations in outer ditch V (Smith 1965, 9).
Perhaps the most interesting deposits of young people come from two examples recovered during the 1988 excavations. The first comes from the outer ditch again, and consists of the cranium of a 3-4 year old child "nested within an intact frontlet of an ox, against which were placed the spine of an ox scapula and a distal tibia" (Whittle et al. 1999, 89). The second comes from the inner ditch. Here an immature infant femur was inserted into the marrow cavity of an ox humerus and placed within a compact deposit bone, mainly cattle but also including pig, sheep/goat and dog (Whittle et al. 1999, 110) (fig. 14).
Figure 14: Bone deposit in the inner ditch of Windmill Hill (after Whittle et al. 1999)
How are we to understand these deposits? What regulatory ideals were being cited through their deposition? What references were being made, and how did they impact upon the understanding of identity of children? Perhaps the most obvious suggestion is that aspects of fertility are being emphasised (Whittle et al. 1999). The skeletons of children are being returned to the land in order to return their life to the ground. Recently born children might be seen as embodying greater fertility than older people; their bones may thus have had particular properties. Perhaps this could explain why they’re associated so explicitly with animal bone in the last two examples. The bones of young children might have been deposited with the bones of oxen in order to transfer that fertility to the living stock. The same could be said of the association between pig bones and infant bones elsewhere in the enclosure. Yet this understanding of fertility, correct or not, does not move us any closer to understanding the identity of children within these societies. I believe we can tell other narratives based on these deposits that will allow us access these identities, without undermining the powerful relationship between children and fertility.
I think the particular relationships between children and animals here is crucial. I do not wish to discuss how animals were perceived at this particular moment, as this forms the subject of the next section. Instead I wish to discuss the actual relationships children would have had with animals, and more particularly the relationships they would have gone on to have had. Children, in ethnographic situations, are often associated with the herding of animals, particularly cattle. Thus these deposits I argue represent a series of predicted relationships. In other words they cite regulatory ideals that children or infants would have gone on to fulfil. Older children, perhaps in their early teens would have been entrusted with the care of these animals, and as they grew older perhaps been associated with some form of ownership of them. This is what would have been expected. By dying particularly early, the children in the burials I have outlined above never formed these relationships in life. They were thus allowed to form them in death. These deposits tell narratives around these particular ideals; ideals that surrounded the relationships between people, children and animals. These deposits thus show us how future and predicted relationships, rather than those they actually held might have defined the identity of the very young. Elsewhere in Windmill Hill adult human bone is associated with animal bone, but never in quite the same way as in those two critical examples. It is these that allow the postulation that the burials cited those particular regulatory ideals.
Animals also offer us another possible way of thinking about age at Windmill Hill, principally through the ages at which they were killed, eaten and selected for deposition. Notably almost all the pigs selected for deposition were under two years of age (Grigson 1999, 221). This throws into sharp relief the relationship between the two infant burials associated with pig skeletons, as both human and animal were extremely young. Interestingly in contrast to this it was almost entirely elderly cows that were selected for consumption and deposition at Windmill Hill (Grigson 1999, 228). There may well be practical reasons behind these selections, with pigs being killed purely for meat and cattle being kept alive for milking, but other considerations must also have been present. It is interesting for example that cattle formed the majority of the deliberately placed deposits, and were also largely of old age (Grigson 1999, 228). Thus one might argue that the reason for their selection for special deposits was due to their old age, and the relationships they had formed during their life. We shall turn to this in more detail now, as we consider how human identity might have been reflected in their treatment of animals, and their conception of animal identity. One final point that should be made is that although the vast majority of cattle deposited were elderly, the ox frontlet in which the human infant cranium is nested was taken from a juvenile ox (Grigson 1999, 205). This echoes the association of piglets and infants mentioned above.
Animal and human relations
How did people think about animals at Windmill Hill and Etton? Why were their bones suitable for depositing in these ritual arenas and what metaphors did they carry? How can thinking about animals help us to understand how people thought about themselves? We need to consider this from a point of view very different to our own. Unlike the majority of people living in western society, Neolithic people would have had an intimate relationship with their animals. They would have seen them everyday, herded them down particular paths to particular places, their lives and the lives of their cattle, sheep, pigs and dogs would have intertwined on a daily basis (Edmonds 1999). More than this, their fortunes would have intertwined. Each animal would have been recognisable by sight, but perhaps more so to some people than others. Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs are the domesticated animals found at both Windmill Hill and Etton. If different people were associated with the care and herding of different animals perhaps different people formed different attachments to different animals. Groups coming together might have exchanged animals, giving up particular ones to which they had formed an emotional attachment for others, to which no attachment had yet been formed. Overall we must recognise that complex relations between people and animals would have existed in the Neolithic, which would have impacted on people’s view of identity. The question is how do we get at this? We will begin with an examination of how animal bone was deposited at Windmill Hill and Etton.
Animal bone at Windmill Hill and Etton
At both Etton and Windmill Hill, but particularly the latter, huge amounts of animal bone were deposited (Pryor 1998; Whittle et al. 1999). Cattle represent some 40% of the animal bone from the enclosure ditch at Etton and if one includes the fragments identified only to the status of large ungulate then this number increases hugely (Armour-Chelu 1998, 284). Cattle bone is deposited throughout both halves of the enclosure. Interestingly cattle are treated very differently to the other animals at Etton. They were never deposited as partial skeletons, instead meat bones seem to have been selected preferentially and deposited in both sides of the enclosure, including in the lengthy bone spreads in phase 1c in the eastern half (Pryor 1998, 361). It is these complex deposits that indicate that the animal bone is not purely the result of feasting, but has been deliberately selected and deposited in particular ways. Unlike the human bone at Etton the animal bone showed little sign of canid gnawing or abrasion, suggesting it was deposited quickly within the ditches (Pryor 1998, 362). Sheep in particular were deposited as partial skeletons, notably in segments 1 and 3 of the western half. There was also a partial pig skeleton in segment 10 of the eastern half (Pryor 1998).
At Windmill Hill in contrast cattle bone was deposited both as individual bones and also in the form of partial skeletons. A notable example of this being the extraordinary deposit in middle ditch VII that included the articulated trunk and forelegs of an ox with its head severed and situated at the base of the spinal column (Pollard 1999, 51). In fact at Windmill Hill cattle bone formed the majority of articulated deposits (Whittle et al. 1999, 360). The deposits at Windmill Hill were certainly not purely the acts of feasting. Just as at Etton, other purposes lay behind their selection and deposition. This can be indicated by the regular deposition of meat bearing bones still fleshed, such as the articulated group of cattle leg, foot and vertebral bones, from the outer ditch (Whittle et al. 1999, 93).
When one compares the deposition of the human and animal bone the unavoidable conclusion at both sites is that voiced in the Windmill Hill site report; that there is "an equality between human and animal remains" (Whittle et al. 1999, 362). We have already encountered this at Windmill Hill in two of the deposits discussed earlier, namely the infant cranium nested in an ox frontlet and the human femur inserted inside the ox humerus. We can expand upon the equivalence between human and animal in these deposits. Firstly it is essential to note the similarity in the bones selected. Both bones are taken from the head in the first deposit and in the second deposit, although the immature human femur is inserted inside a cattle humerus, this is a particular biological definition (fig. 15). Even today we refer to cattle as having four legs, and the humerus is in fact the upper part of the foreleg. Thus in this context the two bones are equivalent.
Throughout the deposits at Windmill Hill individual human bone can be found in context with animal bones; for example in inner ditch 1 an adult humerus was found with an assortment of animal bone (Whittle et al.1999, 362). Such deposits can also be found in the outer and middle ditches (Whittle et al. 1999, 362). At Etton, equality can also be argued for between human and animal bone. We have already seen how a human skull fragment was included in the phase 1c deposits in segment 8 along with animal bone (Pryor 1998, 34). Similar deposits can also be seen in segment 10, which again included a linear deposit of material including a human skull fragment and animal bone (Pryor 1998, 41).
Figure 15: The child femur and cattle humerus from the inner ditch (after Grigson, 1999, 205).
How are we to interpret this willingness to equate animal and human bone at Etton and Windmill Hill? The first thing to point out is that these sites are not alone in making such statements. Animal bone can be found in what might be thought of as human contexts in some long barrows and chambered tombs notably on their own at the Beckhampton Road long barrow, and with human remains at Fussell’s lodge long barrow (Ashbee et al. 1979; Ashbee 1966). Does this equivalence in death indicate equivalence in life? One obvious objection to this would be that whilst we have extensive evidence for the consumption of animals, at Windmill Hill, Etton and other sites, we have no evidence for the cannibalism (Whittle et al.1999, 362). I think however we can move past a simplistic notion of equivalence or difference. Instead we need to consider animals and people on a sliding scale of personhood. In the modern west our conception of animals is that they remain radically different to people; in the Neolithic such understandings were varied and contextual. People encountered their animals on a day-to-day basis. They worked with them; formed relations with them, and their lives and fortunes as I have said were intertwined. Thus people in the Neolithic may not have conceptualised animals, particularly domesticated animals, as radically different to people. Their conceptions of personhood may not have been centred on the western bounded individual; instead it might have been more permeable or partible, able to incorporate animals within it. Alternatively animals may have been attributed their own form of personhood. They were not equivalent to humans in all contexts but in some they were, for example in the linear deposits in Etton and the two startling deposits from Windmill Hill. In the latter bones from oxen were taken and placed around identical human equivalents; in this context they may have been equivalent where in others they were not. In effect these deposits acted as a particular citation of personhood, the personhood of people and the personhood of animals.
Different people, different animals
We should be careful not to over-generalise however. Animals would have been differentiated from each other as well as from people. At Etton, for example, Whittle has pointed out how different species appear to dominate within each segment (2003, 96). Cattle dominate in segments 1, 2, 5, 11 and 12, whilst sheep are dominant in segment 3 and pig in segment 10 (Whittle 2003, fig. 4.4; Pryor 1998; Armour-Chelu 1998) (fig. 16). This shows that although relations with animals were different from today, they were not simplistic, nor were they necessarily considered as a totality. At Windmill Hill we have already seen that it was one specific group of one particular species, elderly cows, which dominated over the others (Grigson 1999). This is notable not only in terms of their relative frequency but also in the location of many cattle skulls in the ditch terminals (Whittle et al. 1999, table 195). Ditch terminals, at both Windmill Hill and Etton, were hugely significant locales. Passed when entering or leaving the enclosure, they would act as powerful stimulus for memory and understanding. The location of cattle skulls then, in these vital locations speaks volumes of the importance of cattle at Windmill Hill, in particular of elderly female cattle. Perhaps this is just the result of economic selection, but I feel this is unlikely; instead we will turn momentarily to an ethnographic example of how certain cattle can be privileged over others.
Figure 16: Dominant depositions of animal bone at Etton (after Whittle 2003, 97).
D.P. Crandall has examined the pastoral Himba of Namibia, and in particular their symbolic categorisation of cattle (1998). The key point that he wishes to stress is that "in any given African pastoral society cattle are not uniform in symbolic value" (Crandall 1998, 101). Himba separate cattle into two distinct groups, the first, patrilineally-controlled ,are special, their meat and milk being sacred (Crandall 1998, 102). They are seen as the possessions of particular ancestors unique to one’s heritage, and indeed to represent the ancestors themselves. The second group, matrilineally-controlled, are non-sacred and you can do with them what you will. Notably though it is possible for a non-sacred cow to become sacred, it is impossible for a sacred cow to do the reverse (Crandall 1998, 102). The latter group are still used in rituals, but their symbolic value is minimal. Crandall explains this distinction by drawing on Himba conceptions of time (1998, 109-11). Himba have two conceptions of time, temporality and timelessness (Crandall 1998, 107). Each group of cattle is associated with each of these conceptions of time, which are simultaneously present. The timeless world of the immortal ancestors represented by patrilineal cattle and the temporal, transitory and mortal world represented by the matrilineal cattle. Thus time is the key to understanding Himba valuations of cattle (Crandall 1998).
I do not propose that this model of time can explain the predominance of elderly cows in the ditches and terminals of Windmill Hill. Rather I think it allows us to begin to think differently about animals, people and symbolism in the Neolithic. Perhaps the elderly cows began to be significant because of their age, the scenes they had witnessed and the experiences they had shared with people. Because of this they became appropriate for special deposition at Windmill Hill. Their age conferred upon them a different status. If terminal deposits were placed there to remind people of different events as they passed into and out of the enclosure (Edmonds 1993, 111), it is perhaps not surprising that elderly cattle were used. In a sliding scale of personhood, perhaps these embodied more of people’s identities than other, younger animals; the emotional ties were stronger, and they were more significant. Thus it was these animals that reflected best the identity of the living and were thus chosen for slaughter, consumption and deposition at Windmill Hill.
Animals were intimately connected with Neolithic life. They acted not only as a resource but also as symbolic media for the expression of multiple metaphors about life. At the enclosures of Windmill Hill and Etton they were killed and eaten, and their bones used in acts of deposition in a range of contexts. At Etton, some were burned and deposited in the small filled pits. Others were deposited in the ditches, either as partial, perhaps still fleshed skeletons, or as long linear deposits, replete with meaning that continues to escape us. Other animals that we have not yet considered were also a fundamental factor in Neolithic life. Dogs played an important role in Neolithic societies and are found as intact burials and as loose bones at Windmill Hill, particularly in the middle ditch (Whittle et al. 1999, 360). Dogs perhaps take up a liminal space between humans and other domesticates, as they were not primarily a food resource. Thus they are afforded different treatment to other animals within the enclosure. Interestingly those bones deposited together but not articulated could indicate excarnation, in the same way as human bone (Whittle et al. 1999, 360). Perhaps these burials were accompanied by grief, and other emotions, as has been attested ethnographically (Whittle et al. 1999, 360).
Wild animals too formed an important counterpoint to the domestic species of sheep, cattle and pig. Auroch bone has been found at both sites, including in the middle ditch at Windmill Hill (Whittle et al.1999, 98). Finds of deer bone also attest to the continuing importance of hunting. This importance was not economic though. Too few bones have been recovered to suggest any reliance upon hunting for subsistence, though this may change in phase 2 at Etton (Armour-Chelu 1998, 285). Instead these wild animals would have offered particular metaphors, just as the fox did in our earlier examination of the segment 7 deposits at Etton. The metaphorical possibilities of domesticated animals have long been attested (e.g. Tilley 1996); wild animals also had such possibilities. Perhaps the actual act of hunting and consumption of wild animals acted as a particular rite of passage, as it does in upper class British society today. All these animals were caught up in expressions of identity in general, and personhood in particular. They were tied up with a view of the world that saw animals and humans not as intrinsically different but bonded, linked and capable of sharing particular qualities. This was truer perhaps at Windmill Hill than at Etton, where dogs and elderly cattle in particular emphasised their special relationships with human beings.
Gender and identity
So far in this section I have deliberately avoided dealing with one crucial area of identity, gender. It is to this issue that we turn to now. Let us begin by examining a particular reference to gender at Windmill Hill made in the site report (Whittle et al. 1999). Whittle et al. note that some opposing segments flanking major causeways have distinctly different deposits (1999, 369). For example middle ditch II contained twice as much pottery and five times as many flint tools as middle ditch I (Whittle et al. 1999, 369). The same pattern can be seen between inner ditch X and inner ditch XI. In both cases Whittle et al. point out it is the right hand segment as you enter the monument that produced the greater quantity of material (1999, 369). These asymmetries, they argue, leads to a consideration of the "possibility of left- and right-hand sidedness having had structural associations with particular gender categories" (Whittle et al. 1999, 369).
It is relatively easy to offer a simple left=female, right=male dichotomy, or indeed the reverse, as Whittle et al. do, and it opens itself up for criticism (1999). To begin with it relies upon a simple male/female bifurcation, much as we have in today’s society. In addition it could also be argued that the difference on each side is due to the nature of deposits laid on entering or leaving the enclosure, and one always deposited on one’s right- or left-hand side. This too would produce the contrast noted by in the site report. Nonetheless, when you begin to analyse gender in the Neolithic is that you have to start somewhere. Indeed the comments on gender were deliberately meant to be the starting point, not the end, of debate (Alasdair Whittle personal communication). The vocabulary of male versus female that we use lures us into simplistic dichotomies and it is all too easy to offer essentialist categories of man and woman. In order to analyse gender, I shall begin from an explicitly traditionalist position as a way in. I will then take a step back and try alternative narratives that maintain these distinctions but show that it is possible to simultaneously undermine those positions. The traditionalist position offers the essentialist proposal that pots and plants are associated with women whilst axes and animals are associated with men. Interestingly such a position has some ethnographic support (Leach 1992; Crandall 1998; Fairbairn 1999; Whittle et al. 1999). The possible relationship between men and axes has also been expounded elsewhere in archaeology (e.g. Patton 1993, 27-9; Tilley and Thomas 1993, 315). The point of my counter-narrative will not be to deny that the validity of this position, but to suggest that we need to deepen our narratives if we are to move away from a position that simply empowers male figures in the past. The work of the anthropologist Constantine-Nadia Seremetakis will prove crucial in this respect (1991). I will then be in a position to discuss how ideas of gender might be created through performance and citation, and how we can use this position to begin to gender our earlier narratives.
Building on tradition
Let us start from the position mentioned above that explicitly associated women with pots and plants, and men with axes and animals. How can such a position begin to offer us insight into the creation of gender at Windmill Hill and Etton? The first point to note is that such a position is suggested within the Windmill Hill site report. Whittle and Pollard point out the relative dearth of axes within the enclosure, particularly in comparison with pottery (1999, 388). They use this to support a position that sees enclosures as a "fundamentally female space" (Whittle and Pollard. 1999, 388). Using the Mende of Sierra Leone as an analogy, Whittle and Pollard argue for a particular relationship between, men and women on the one hand, and clearances and enclosures on the other (1999, 388; Leach 1992). This is a relationship where men make initial clearances and women are then responsible for their maintenance. Such a position would also further the association of men with axes through their use in clearance. The Mende analogy is associated here and elsewhere within the Windmill Hill site report with the possible female role in plant production (e.g. Fairbairn 1999). Fairbairn argues that the plant remains at Windmill Hill may have been associated conceptually with women as they would have been responsible for the production and processing of plants (Fairbairn 1999, 153). These he argues might have been as assertion of female power against the maleness of cattle, and can be placed, as Whittle and Pollard argue, within the context of female space at the enclosure (Fairbairn 1999, 153; Whittle and Pollard 1999, 388).
How do these concepts work at our other enclosure, Etton? Unlike Windmill Hill, Etton was not set within woodland, but in a cleared environment (Pryor 1998, 351). This clearly weakens any analogy with the Mende for example (Leach 1992). However other aspects of Etton can be used to suggest possible ways of thinking about gender on similar lines to that suggested above for Windmill Hill. The division of the enclosure into two halves through both contrasting physical attributes and the construction of a fence and ditch down the centre offers one such way. Perhaps conceptually one half was associated with women and the other with men? Recalling that pottery was almost entirely absent from the western half, occurring only in ditch segment 1 supports this contention (Pryor 1998, 67). In addition querns, associated with the processing of plant food were more common in the eastern half (Pryor 1998, 103). Perhaps then we have an enclosure that was less a female space and more divided between the genders.
Thus a casual conclusion might suggest that gender in the Neolithic was divided upon male and female lines, each controlling items associated traditionally with particular genders, men with cattle and axes (weapons?), and women with plants and pots. Power here is implicitly gendered as male. It is men who have control of the active, moving animals, the powerful dangerous and exotic axes. Women are left with passive and stationary plants and breakable pots, which were common, at least within the context of enclosures. I do not mean to suggest that it is the use of the Mende analogy that has disempowered women in this account. I would not suggest that Mende women are disempowered. Women emerge as disempowered through this narrative despite the analogy with the Mende, because essentialist western positions persist within the account. Despite its essentialist nature however this distinction has served a particular purpose as it has allowed us to begin to discuss gender in the Neolithic. Let us see if this position can serve us further.
Other metaphors begin to suggest themselves, the role of male animals entering a female enclosure at Windmill Hill for example, has obvious sexual overtones. Cattle entered the enclosure alive across the causeways and entered the ditches dead. Again within this however power and action are gendered as male. Perhaps we can contrast the deposition of pottery with the exchange of axes. Male power, symbolised by axes may have been transitory flowing through the enclosure, which had a permanent female presence. Perhaps the links to fertility through the burial of infants can also be tied in with an unchanging female metaphor.
Traditions of empowerment
Power again remains implicitly gendered as male however (Brück 2001). In order to escape this we need to think about how power can exist in female hands, even within the traditionalist framework I have used as the basis for this model of gender. We can begin to develop such a position by thinking about the relationships that might have existed between women and death (Seremetakis 1991). This is particularly apposite within enclosures where not only was human bone deposited in the ditches but also excarnation may have taken place (Pryor 1998; Whittle et al. 1999). In thinking about the relationship between women and death the work of the anthropologist Constantine-Nadia Seremetakis proves invaluable (1991). Seremetakis has analysed the death rituals and laments of the people of Inner Mani in rural Greece (1991). Here, she points out "to examine death… is to look at Maniat society through female eyes" (Seremetakis 1991, 15 emphases in original). Maniat women are responsible for mortuary rituals, which include amongst other things secondary burial (Seremetakis 1991, 178). Within these acts of burial and re-burial women can exert cultural power, and use pain and emotion to challenge dominant discourses (Seremetakis 1991, 2-4). The rites that surround secondary burial can provide particular insight for us here. During the exhumation of the bone "moral valuations accompany the changing physical conditions of the body" (Seremetakis 1991, 185). The colour of the bones and whether the flesh has rotted away or not allow differing interpretations by women of a sometimes hidden past (Seremetakis 1991, 188-9). Indeed this practice is not unique to Inner Mani, as divination through animal and human bones is a common practice in rural Greece (Seremetakis 1991, 189).
Using Seremetakis’ work as analogy we can begin to empower women at the causewayed enclosures of Windmill Hill and Etton, without necessarily having to reject the traditionalist associations. If human bodies, as has been suggested, were left to decompose within a particularly female space, then it would not be surprising if it were women who were in charge of such a process. What Seremetakis offers us is a way of seeing how, through performance and emotion, such control can lead to real social power (1991). The bodies might have been left at the enclosures whilst people moved on through the yearly round. On returning the body might have disintegrated to a greater or lesser extent. The degree to which this had happened would allow particular interpretations about the deceased’s life to be made. Perhaps this would influence what happened to their bones, but it would certainly allow the cultural production of truth through this particular discourse (Seremetakis 1991, 4). This need not be limited to excarnation and human bone. Let us turn to examine the small filled pits with which Etton is replete to see if a similar analysis can enlighten our understanding of gendered power relations there.
Even at a well-excavated site such as Etton, the nuances of gender can remain frustratingly absent; however the small filled pits can begin to allow us to access detailed moments of small-scale deposition. These were moments of deposition that were caught up with burning and can, through analogy with the Maniat begin to offer us access to gender. The enclosure at Etton contained numerous of these small filled pits that were dug throughout the first phase of the enclosure’s use (Pryor 1998). These pits, sometimes very shallow, often contained burnt material, be it flint, animal bone or pottery and the soil tended to be charcoal stained (Pryor 1998, 353). The pits were often sealed with a particularly impressive capping item such as the polished stone axe in pit F263, or the fine quartzite axe polissoir in pit F786 (Pryor 1998, 103) (fig. 17; fig. 18). We have already noted how these pits never intercut; Pryor suggests this may be because they were associated with the funerary rites of particular people (1998, 354). Thus to intercut he argues would be to infringe on another’s identity (Pryor 1998, 354). This latter point is clearly based upon a particular view of personhood that sees the western individual as a trans-historical entity and has been critiqued earlier. This however does not invalidate their association with funerary rituals.
Figure 17: Small filled pit F263, with polished stone axe (from Pryor 1998, 103).
Figure 18: Quartz polissoir, in small filled pit F786 at Etton (from Pryor 1998, 107).
Overall the exact purpose of small filled pits may well escape our detection, but we can begin to discuss, using Seremetakis’ approach, how they may have been caught up in power relations and discourse between men and women (1991). Burning can have multiple effects upon bone, pottery and flint, depending on the consistency and temperature of the flame (Howard Williams personal communication). This would allow a great deal of scope for interpretation and debate around the colour and consistency of the deposits as they were removed from the fire and placed in the pit. Perhaps this is another example of how cultural truths could be produced through interpretation, memory and emotional discourse (cf. Seremetakis 1991). It is interesting to note that axes and axe fragments were deposited in these pits; here we have male items (within the schema we have followed) being incorporated and controlled within female power. Thus material culture may have been gendered through context, through performance, rather than being inherently male or female (M. Strathern 1988). The fact the pits do not intercut could perhaps be explained by the temporally contingent nature of these events. They were a single happening, a one off. To infringe on another pit was not to cut in on another’s identity but to invoke a past event. It was this that was culturally taboo. The lack of intercutting now places the knowledge and associated power we discussed earlier in female hands. It may have been older women who controlled the location of each pit and assured that they did not intercut with older events. Power and knowledge can now be found in female as well as male hands. The association of particular groups of small filled pits and ditch segments may show how women asserted power within particular kinship groups (cf. Pryor 1998, 355)
We can now return to other earlier narratives, and begin to gender those. Let us use the association we have made between pots and women to gender the narrative we told at Etton around rites of passage and age. Conducted in the eastern half of the enclosure, two pots were used in the ritual. One pot, I argued, represented the person involved and the other represented the community into which they were being accepted. If we now see pottery as intimately connected with women, perhaps we can suggest that that the person involved in the rite of passage was female, represented by the (female) pot and welcomed into the (female) community. Thus a gendered position begins to emerge within our narrative. This is certainly worthwhile, as it allows a fuller discussion of identity within these rites of passage.
We can turn now to how these gendered roles can be thought about in terms of performativity, citation and reiteration. It was through the roles played by different people that these gendered differences emerged. They were created through the roles performed around the small filled pits, and through the wielding of axes and the clearance of forest. The small filled pits acted as citations of what should be burnt and allowed power and discourse to be wielded by women. More than this, they may have created notions of what it meant to be female in the Neolithic. At locations such as this, as much as in the fields or woodland, or by the hearth or kiln the regulatory ideals around particular views of gender may have been created, cited and reinforced. Perhaps we should involve children again here, who may have been associated with animals through herding, but took on certain genders through their involvement with certain aspects of the habitus. Different forms of agency can be seen here; women may have exercised creative powerful agency at Etton and Windmill Hill, power taken and used through discourses around death. This was not though the simplistic knowledgeable agency of Giddens, but agency that drew on memory and emotion, to create certain truths and deny other discourses. This was agency not gendered implicitly as male, but gendered explicitly as female (cf. Gero 2000, 34). Alternatively resistant forms of agency, as advocated by Butler (1993) may have been important to those who refused to take part in traditional activities; women who carried axes, men who gathered plants.
We have moved a long way from the simple association of men with axes and animals and women with plants and pots. We have shown that power may reside in a number of areas and that agency can take different forms, both creative and resistant (McNay 2000). All of this has been based on a series of essentialist assumptions however, about the nature of gender and upon a simplistic bifurcation of male and female. These are positions that I criticised at length earlier. There may well have been other genders in the Neolithic, developed through resistance to hegemonic gender norms, or through a fashioning of agency and creativity. We could have started from a position that denied any recognition of gender differences in the Neolithic, though this would be difficult given that it is a demonstrable concern at West Kennet amongst other sites (Thomas and Whittle 1986). Alternatively we could have argued for a multiply gendered Neolithic with a third gender, perhaps, taking charge of excarnation. The justification for the position I have described is two-fold however. Firstly it is important to remember I have offered only one possible understanding among many, one possible way in which the material conditions of life may have been inhabited. Secondly one must begin somewhere, and the traditionalist position allowed me to start to access gender in the past; it created notions around gender to be taken and developed. Future studies will develop these themes and examine other narratives around gender to challenge the basic assumptions behind the one I have offered above.
Lifecourse and identity
The different areas we have discussed, around age and gender, animal human relations and the metaphors of inclusion and exclusion are all intimately linked. In other contexts Joanne Sofaer Derevenski has shown how age and gender develop hand in hand during, as she describes it, the lifecourse (Sofaer Derevenski 1997; 2000). At the enclosures we have examined, notions around identity and personhood were created, maintained and subverted through people’s relationship with animals, through metaphors of inclusion and exclusion and through people’s understanding of the wider world. Each lifecourse in the Neolithic was unique. No two people would have shared exactly the same experiences and understandings as they grew up and grew old. Identity ran through all aspects of their lives, but was perhaps brought into focus more clearly at causewayed enclosures such as Windmill Hill and Etton. But if they made sense there, it was because they also made sense in the wider world to which these enclosures referred. This wider world was made up of the experiences people had, as they herded cattle down paths, traded materials, people, animals and information and as they knapped flint and grew crops. People would have begun to learn the rhythms of life, their roles and identities, as children; it was here that the habitus became part of the unthinking world, part of the non-discursive knowledges that told them "how-to-go-on". As they grew up they would walk along the paths their ancestors had taken for generations, visiting enclosures like Etton and Windmill Hill, and seeing the activities that took place there; activities such as the excarnation of the dead, perhaps controlled and interpreted, as I have said, by women. Alternatively, they may have witnessed the exchange of animals, axes and other products such as plants, of which there has been little time to discuss. Perhaps these exchanges were caught up in the biographies of both the objects and the people who traded them, and helped define their ideas around personhood. The animals the children had grown to know intimately would be traded, or slaughtered and feasted upon. The resultant bones would then have been deposited in the ditches in complex ways, tied into particular rites of passage, or buried with infants who had not lived long enough to form identities of their own. Perhaps all of this took place with reference to origin myths or common beliefs around memories of older, continental enclosures, and a way of living long since dead (Bradley 2002).
As the children grew up, they may have taken on multiple identities, as mothers and fathers, roles as men and women, perhaps exercising power in very different ways in very different areas. These categories, much like ours today, were ideals to be lived up to, to be cited, undermined or denied through performance. The nature of these categories may have been very different in the past however. Multiple genders may have been open to people, and what was expected of each gender may have been very different. Concepts of masculinity, femininity and sexuality may have been meaningless in the Neolithic; other words may have mattered much more. The seasonality of life would have been important, bringing with it different roles, responsibilities, tasks and feelings (cf. M. Harris 1998; 2000). Growing into adulthood and old age would see new responsibilities, and new forms of identity emerging. Increasingly the knowledge and memories of past times would have come to be valued: what was appropriate to bury in which ditch at Windmill Hill, the location of the small filled pits at Etton. These knowledges may have been restricted to people of certain ages and certain identities. Eventually people would die, be mourned and missed by those they left behind; their bodies left to be excarnated within the enclosures that they had visited many times. When the people returned they might interpret the colour of the bones, or the state of decay as indicators of a particular life, or as hints of secrets previously unknown (Seremetakis 1991). Those bones might then be deposited in megalithic tombs, but some might be kept, passed around between people, perhaps deposited in the ditches of enclosures themselves. Even now identity may have been negotiable and performative; roles as ancestors, named or otherwise, might have awaited the dead upon their deposition (Parker-Pearson and Ramilsonina 1998; Pitts 2003; cf. Whitley 2002)
None of this was fixed though; none of this was a foregone conclusion. Opportunities for agency, through resistance and creativity existed at every turn. This agency existed in the relationships between people and in the misunderstandings and unforeseen consequences of action. It existed in groups, in the power of people to change, and in the way older themes might become less important. It also existed in single people. The agents of the past were very different from the free-willed knowledgeable agents of today, but their agency existed nonetheless. Agency existed within the habitus, within the regulated improvisations, and within resistance to imposed categories that may have existed. Throughout all of this agency, just like life itself, was caught up in identity, who you were, what you were, the roles you played and the performances you made. The rites of passage people went through were only part of what defined this; the rest was the performative nature of life itself. At sites like Etton and Windmill Hill agency and identity were caught up together, they defined each other, but in ways very different from life today. They were caught up to in emotion and memory, in belief and in myth, in hope and in expectation.
Throughout this dissertation I have taken the theoretical insights of an archaeology of practice (e.g. Barrett 2001), with its emphasis upon agency and habitus and attempted to meld them with the performative nature of identity advocated by Judith Butler (1993). This notion of performative practice has allowed me to examine the architecture and deposits at Windmill Hill and Etton from a perspective that emphasises the creation of identity through performance. Thus we looked at how at different ages, different performances might be appropriate through rites of passage, and how these might lead to a change in identity through incorporation into a new group. Equally we looked at how differential access to knowledge allowed different acts of performativity, particularly how older people might dominate in these discourses. We looked at animal and human relations and I argued that the deposits at Windmill Hill and Etton showed a particular view of personhood that was extended from people to animals. With gender we took a particular point of view and developed it to give new understandings of how power might work between people of different gender. Throughout this there pervaded the ramifications of the enclosure architecture with its emphasis on inclusion and exclusion.
However this has only been a beginning. Despite the huge range of deposits, enclosures only represent a tiny fraction of Neolithic lives, and thus a tiny fraction of the areas and arenas in which identity could be created, negotiated and undermined. Even within these enclosures we have only touched on the surface of the possible activities that took place there. The role of exchange with its connotations of biography, narrative and morality has not been considered (Maschio 1998; Hagen 1999). The roles of different groups coming together, the dangers and the possibilities this might create has also has yet to be discussed. Both these areas could have massive impacts upon our understanding of the creation of identity in the Neolithic. Yet there has not been room to debate them here. Other areas of Neolithic life also require consideration: the sequences of settlement, the depositions under flint scatters; all of these would have impacted on identity. Other monuments such as the megalithic tombs and long barrows would have played important roles, as would broader concerns around origins, myths and ancestry. A landscape-based approach would also yield benefits, allowing a full discussion of how the taskscape and affordances of the wider area might also be caught up in identity (Ingold 2000).
What are now required are regional studies so that wider more holistic pictures of identity can emerge. These need to be detailed, covering all areas of Neolithic life, as identity was formed, maintained and subverted through them all. Multiple studies will also allow comparisons to be drawn and further insights to be gained from this. As well as being geographically varied, these need to be temporally wide-ranging, taking in the changes and continuities in identity between the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic and between the Early and Middle Neolithic. Improved chronologies are essential for this, and new radiocarbon dates currently being obtained will prove invaluable (Alasdair Whittle personal communication). Multiple narratives around identity also need to be offered, starting not only from traditional positions as I did with gender but also from controversial, provocative and evocative positions. These should be compared, contrasted and pulled apart within individual studies. This will allow not only a clearer picture of personhood in the Neolithic to emerge but also a sense of the plural possibilities of identity and the multiplicity of agencies that existed in the past. Within this however, I believe it would be deeply surprising if causewayed enclosures did not continue to play a dynamic and crucial role.
Identity and agency interwove at the causewayed enclosures of Windmill Hill and Etton in the Early Neolithic. They were enmeshed within the habitus and cited and referred to particular regulatory ideals. By combining the work of Bourdieu (1977), Giddens (1984), Butler (1993) and M. Strathern (1988) we can begin to think our way through these complex issues. What I have done in this dissertation is offered a sample of life in the Neolithic, taken from two particular sites, and touching on only a fraction of the data and interpretive possibilities that each offers us. In doing so I have begun to suggest how we can access identity in the past. The work has only just begun, but it continues to be important. It is important for archaeology that we give as full a description of life in the past as possible, that we consider all the ways life might have been lived within the material conditions that we recover (Barrett 2001). It is important politically, so that the injustices, inequalities and prejudices of today are not thrust unwarranted into the past and thereby legitimated. What I have written is only a fraction of what could be said, a fraction of what needs to be said, and as such I am loath to offer firm conclusions. Perhaps the most important aspect of this study is simply that such a work is possible. We can access identity in the past, and it is our duty to do so. The Neolithic was a time very different from today, with different concerns, different ways of living and different people. It is time to let those people emerge.