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‘Prestation Economy’: a model for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age burial deposition in Central-Western Europe


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Desde os anos de 1970, enterramentos ricos como aqueles de Vix e Hochdorf têm sido analisados como ícones de um fenômeno pan-regional – a emergência de Estados tradicionais, a qual é largamente sustentada pelo impacto de sua interação com as sociedades mediterrâneas. Contudo, nas últimas duas décadas, tem havido uma crítica significativa a um tal modelo interpretativo. No seio desse debate, o presente artigo afirma que o registro arqueológico fornece evidência de que depósitos rituais (também e juntamente com outras formas de dom e contra-dom) constituíam parte significativa do que podemos chamar “economia de prestações”. A fim de tal demonstrar, este artigo analisa os enterramentos e respectivos depósitos funerários das regiões de quatro “centros principescos” (Fürstensitze) – a saber: Bourges, Châtillon-sur-Glâne, Mont Lassois e Hohenasperg.
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Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, São Paulo, 18: 133-153, 2008.
‘Prestation Economy’: a model for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron
Age burial deposition in Central-Western Europe*
Adriene Baron Tacla **
TACLA, A.B. ‘Prestation Economy’: a model for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age
burial deposition in Central-Western Europe. Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e
Etnologia, São Paulo, 18: 133-153, 2008.
Resumo: Desde os anos de 1970, enterramentos ricos como aqueles de Vix e
Hochdorf têm sido analisados como ícones de um fenômeno pan-regional – a
emergência de Estados tradicionais, a qual é largamente sustentada pelo impacto
de sua interação com as sociedades mediterrâneas. Contudo, nas últimas duas
décadas, tem havido uma crítica significativa a um tal modelo interpretativo. No
seio desse debate, o presente artigo afirma que o registro arqueológico fornece
evidência de que depósitos rituais (também e juntamente com outras formas de
dom e contra-dom) constituíam parte significativa do que podemos chamar
economia de prestações”. A fim de tal demonstrar, este artigo analisa os enterramentos
e respectivos depósitos funerários das regiões de quatro “centros principescos”
(Fürstensitze) – a saber: Bourges, Châtillon-sur-Glâne, Mont Lassois e Hohenasperg.
Palavras-chave: Idade do Ferro Européia – Ritualização – Economia Política
– Enterramentos – Depósitos funerários.
political economy and ritual. Taking for granted
an established opposition of ‘sacred’ and
‘profane’ spheres, and generally based on
functionalist or structuralist approaches of
‘ritual’, a number of works on those prehistoric
societies convey the image of the world and life
divided in clear established categories, with
(*) This paper is based on the results of my
doctoral research ‘Sacred Sites and Power in West
Hallstatt Chiefdoms’, which was developed at the
University of Oxford under the supervision of
Professor Emeritus Barry Cunliffe and funded by
CNPq (a Brazilian federal foundation for the
development of science and technology). Earlier
versions of this paper were presented at the IARSS
2005 in Edinburgh and at the International
Conference - Ritual Dynamics and the Science of Ritual,
2008, in Heidelberg.
(**) Postdoctoral researcher of the Laboratory of Studies
on the Ancient City (labeca), Museum of Archaeology
and Ethnology (MAE) of the Universidade de São Paulo
(USP) and member of the Centre of Interdisciplinary
Studies of Antiquity (CEIA) of the Universidade Federal
Fluminense (UFF).
he dynamics of prestige and power have
been central for the understanding of
West Hallstatt societies. Most approaches,
centring on mechanisms and structures of power
in chiefdoms, have excluded the linkage between
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‘Prestation Economy’: a model for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age burial deposition in Central-Western Europe.
Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, São Paulo, 18: 133-153, 2008.
‘ritual’ remaining distant from everyday life.
However, the archaeological evidence hints at a
rather distinct context, where ritual is part of
daily life, becoming distinct through means of
performance and through experience; this
linkage has started to be explored in a number of
works on the archaeology both of Northwestern
Europe and the Mediterranean (e.g. Bradley
2003, 2005; Brück 2004; Fontijn 2002; Giles
2007; Hill 1995; Hingley 1997; Nijboer 2001
amongst others).
Therefore, my aims here are threefold: first,
regarding the internal dynamics of West Hallstatt
societies, to question the interpretation of a
‘prestige goods economy’. Secondly, to propose
the model of what I call a ‘prestation economy’
and show how this can be perceived in the burial
record. Third, and finally, to point out how the
deposits of prestations in burials suggest a distinction
between private and public ceremonies.
I must, however, underline that my goal here
is not so much to retrace the life of those objects
as to consider their action in their final deposit, i.e.
to understand their significance and employment at
the moment of their withdrawal from circulation
in society. The present study takes into consideration
the assemblages of burials from Late Bronze Age
to the beginning of Late Iron Age (ca. 1200-400
BC) from the regions of four emblematic cases of
the ‘princely phenomenon’, namely: Bourges
(Centre, France), Mont Lassois (Burgundy, France),
Châtillon-sur-Glâne (canton de Fribourg,
Switzerland), and Hohenasperg (Baden-
Württemberg, Germany) (Fig. 1).
Protohistoric burial practice
Burials are important markers in social life, for
they punctuate the collective and personal memory,
and establish the link between the present and past
generations. Several authors perceive death and
burials to be the moment of transition and
transformation, and of re-establishment of the
social order, with the separation of the deceased
from the world of the living and their passing to the
world of the dead. This transition is ordered by
stipulated rules, and sumptuary and political
regulations, in addition to individual family
traditions. Thus, burial deposits are carefully
structured by the living, whose choices and attitudes
articulate elements of social structure, gender and
political relations, as well as views of the Otherworld
and of death, innovations and tradition (cf. Barrett
1990; Fleming 1973; Parker Pearson 1999; Pearson
1998). In this sense, funerary display not only
reveals hegemonic views, but it also shows individual
Generally, one can define the Central-
Western European burial assemblages as: a) Late
Bronze Age: construction of large burial mounds
(tumuli) with a predominance of cremation rites;
b) Early Iron Age (the so-called Hallstatt period):
tumuli continued to be built (in some cases they
were even reused), though cremation gave place
to inhumation as the preferred burial rite; c)
Late Iron Age (so-called La Tène period): there is
the creation of large cemeteries of flat graves with
the reappearance of cremation burials. Such is
the oversimplified outline, for the broad picture
of burial practice in protohistoric Central-
Western Europe is much more complex.
Regional analyses1 have nonetheless been
showing that cremation and inhumation rites
coexisted throughout protohistory. Moreover,
cremations proved to be rather heterogeneous.
They could be performed directly on the ground
or on a funerary pyre that could either be built
in the vicinity of the burial place, at the gravesite
or even at distant places. Cremation burials
presented: a) separation of corpse remains –
bones from ashes and/or corpse remains from
the rests of funerary platform; b) form of
deposition: in a heap, in a metal urn or in a
pottery urn; c) type of grave: flat or tumulus.
Such differences denote not solely difference in
ritual practice, but also distinct attitudes towards
the deceased, which are particularly emphasized
in the burial of remains in graves or funerary
monuments, creating an intentional and evident
marker in the collective and familial memory.
(1) For some recent analyses of burial typologies and
assemblages see Baray (2000, 2003); Burmeister
(2000); Evans (2001); Hochuli et al. (1998); Kurz
(1997); Müller et al. (1999); Pare (1992) and Olivier
(1995, 2000a-b).
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Fig. 1. Location map of so-called Fürstensitze.
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‘Prestation Economy’: a model for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age burial deposition in Central-Western Europe.
Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, São Paulo, 18: 133-153, 2008.
Such variety in ritual performance and final
deposition also occurs in inhumations, which
appear in single, double or multiple burials in one
grave that could be a central or secondary grave
placed under a same mound. The preparation of
the dead, the feast, corpse disposal, deposition of
offerings, and the like, were not rigidly standardized
and conformed to both regional patterns and to
individual choices. Then, although dorsal decubitus
with extended legs and arms along aside the body is
the most frequent position in single burials, there
are also occurrences of bodies placed crouched, or
in lateral or abdominal decubitus.
The typology of burial mounds also varied
considerably. Mounds were surrounded by ditches,
circles of stones or wooden posts, with or without
stone-cairns, and filled-up with earth or with both
stones and earth. Likewise other monuments, burial
mounds demanded the mobilization of a large
amount of labour and the organization of work
through various stages – the excavation of the pit,
building the grave chamber, deposition of the body
and grave-goods, the excavation of the ditch,
building the mound, and the placement of stones,
the stakes or stelae. Thus, it is generally assumed
that the larger the investment of energy, the higher
was the social rank (cf. Tainter 1978: 125-28) and
the clearer the evidence of chiefdom organization
(Earle 1987: 290).
The construction of mounds encompassed a
chain of actions that had a significant role in the
funerary ritual. Thus ‘conspicuous’ and
‘inconspicuous monuments’2 implied different
ritual times and performances. Bartel (1982: 54)
proposed a general model for the sequence of
funerary behaviour and Olivier (1999) suggested
a sequence of time and performance for the
burial of the Hochdorf chief. The construction
of mounds punctuated different stages of the
performance. The preparation of the burial site
occurred in parallel with the preparation of the
body and the organization of the ceremony,
which engaged mourners, friends/allies, builders
and other members of the community.
Within this scenario, the period referred to
as of the West Hallstatt societies is broadly
characterized by inhumation burials placed
under large tumuli, which could contain one or
more graves. The interpretation of such burials
has privileged the discourse of emergence,
domination, and legitimation of powerful elites.
In this perspective, the opulence of certain graves
(the so-called Fürstengräber) placed under
conspicuous monuments (in contrast to graves
more simply furnished and placed in inconspicuous
monuments) primarily represents a statement of
power, domination and dependency among the
hierarchies of chiefs and elite members. The
present discussion focuses exactly on such issue,
but, before turning to the mater of prestige and
grave-goods deposition, it is necessary to understand
the distinction of certain dead personae and the
construction of memory and ancestry.
Between dead and ancestors
In not belonging to the material world, the dead
are seen either as potentially harmful or helpful to
the living (cf. Parker Pearson 1993: 203). A number
of works on West Hallstatt societies have considered
the fear and reverence evoked by the power of the
dead. This power is usually interpreted as two sorts
of dead: ‘dangerous spirits’ and the ‘memorable
dead’. According to Pauli (1975: 171), the former
are identified in burials with amulets, which could
represent unmarried women and/or childless
women. Prisoners or criminals that were victims of
ritual death could equally be seen as ‘dangerous
spirits’ and, therefore, they were placed apart from
the other deceased people. On the other end of the
spectrum, the heroes and ancestors represented the
(2) Peters (2000), when analysing the Bronze Age
round barrows in the Stonehenge environs, proposes
the categorization of mounds as ‘conspicuous’ and
‘inconspicuous’ due to their dimensions and contents.
Conspicuous mounds have ‘impressive features’
(above 20 m diameter) and contained a large amount
of deposits, including imported goods, whereas
inconspicuous mounds are more ordinary and rather
unnoticeable in size. Such terminology is here used in
relation to the size (mounds’ diameter for the height
could not always be assessed, especially due to erosion
and agricultural destruction). One could also consider
the use of such terminology in relation to large grave-
goods deposits. However, it is not possible to affirm
for all cases the coincidence of rich grave-good
deposits and mounds of large dimensions.
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Adriene Baron Tacla
‘memorable dead’ and were, consequently,
placed in funerary monuments, often with a rich
assemblage of funerary deposits. In order to keep
the balance and distinction between the ‘world
of the living’ and the ‘world of dead’, it is
assumed to be of prime importance to establish
physical boundaries by means of ditches, stone
cairns, and/or post-row circles (cf. Arnold 2002:
130-131). These would then guarantee that
those worlds would meet only through ritual
performance in sacred places; thus shielding the
living against the ‘dangerous dead’ placed in
cemeteries, and enabling powerful ancestors to
be invoked for protection as well as to legitimate
the status of their descendants. However, would
that be so?
Although contact with the dead was facilitated
in sacred places, their world was not so distant
from that of the living. The category usually
referred to as ‘special deposits’3 shows that the
hypothesis of a ‘protective intention’ of the
deposit of amulets in burials, as well as of the use
of stones and ditches in the construction of
burial mounds, is ungrounded. The dead, and in
particular the ancestors, were present in everyday
life. Nonetheless, an emphasis on the role of
ancestors in prehistoric Europe has been
challenged as a transposition of modern concerns
to the prehistoric societies (cf. Whitley 2002). In
reply to such a challenge, I sustain that not only
does the archaeological record of prehistoric
Europe evince distinct forms and attitudes
regarding the social memory, but it also shows
the ancestors as being of paramount significance
to the understanding of these societies.
Remembrance and oblivion were present in
everyday life, embedded in communal space as
well as in private spheres and histories. A closer
link with some ‘selected’ dead is to be observed in
the placement of burials inside the settlements, in
cemeteries and monuments, as well as in their
worship in sanctuaries. This does not necessarily
mean that the ancestors provided an explanation
for every social phenomenon, but rather that
they had a role of significance in the construction
of communal history, as well as in the definition
of lines of inheritance. The creation of permanent
burial places was not only related to ‘… the
pollution brought into the community by
deceased (…), [but also to] the cultural centrality
of the physical remains of the dead’ (Chapman
1994: 47). For kinship was crucial to legitimise
social order, the right to property, and the
possession of land. It lay between the definition
of boundaries, the marking out of territories
and, in a wider sense, the determination of the
known-world and the position of a group within it.
In fact, ancestry was crucial for the
legitimisation of rank and leadership. All the
more, as I argue herein, the Hallstatt societies
were based on a prestation economy, in which
the possession of inalienable heirlooms and the
offering of prestations enabled the creation and
maintenance of relationships, and defined both
personal and family prestige and identity. Their
memory was not only marked by monuments on
the landscape, but also by the deposition of
artefacts that signalled relationships. Hence, it is
in the analysis of both the employment of
material culture and monuments in the production
of social memories that one can devise the
overlapping of political dynamics in communal life.
Connerton (1989) remarked that ritualised
performance is at the heart of the process of
remembrance, for ritual practice shapes and
establishes both the personal and collective
memories.4 The collective experience of ritual
performance implies continuity through repetition
(3) The term ‘special deposits’ is employed, in the
British archaeology, to identify deposits of human
remains (isolated bones and partial or complete
skeletons) found in storage or ‘domestic’ pits, or even
in structures that resemble these. The most famous
examples were found in Danebury (England), but they
equally occur in other Iron Age settlements in
England, in Germany (at the Lower Rhine and Northern
Württemberg), in France (at Cher, Champagne, Marne,
Île-de-France and Dordogne), and in Switzerland. For
more details on ‘special deposits’ see Cunliffe (1992)
and Hill (1995).
(4) Connerton points out that there are three types of
memory: personal (recollection of individuals’ lives),
cognitive (acquired knowledge, memorised data), and
habit (the memory of practices, of performances). The
latter is the sort of memory that shapes social life, for
it encompasses practical knowledge of cultural, social
and religious rules.
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‘Prestation Economy’: a model for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age burial deposition in Central-Western Europe.
Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, São Paulo, 18: 133-153, 2008.
of past performances and events that install a
hegemonic memory in communal life. Collective
commemoration ceremonies are, therefore,
instrumental in establishing a common view of
the past and a sense of belonging. Yet, we should
notice that it is not intention, meaning or
messages that is retained in the memory, but the
ritual performance itself. In other words, it is the
practice that inscribes memories (cf. Connerton
1989: 73).
In this sense, the distinction between burials
and memorials suggests that the ritualised
performance of funerals and the construction of
monuments involves two types of memory: a
short-term memory linked to the commemoration
of personhood, and a long-term memory related
to the celebration of ancestry and heritage.5 The
short-term memory is clearly evinced in burials
that denote more intimate ceremonies. In
contrast, long-term memory operates in large
communal burial ceremonies, as well as in reused
Both intimate and communal ceremonies
play a significant role in the socio-political
dynamics. However, the latter are extraordinary
statements for their contemporaries and
descendants alike, since they actually become
physical and mnemonic milestones of events and
personalities, metaphors of power and prestige,
and constituents of individual and collective
identities. Such identities are produced in
numerous contexts of social life and reified in
ritualised performance. Thus, burials were not a
direct expression of the personal identities and
the status of the deceased, but rather an arena
where several levels of relationships (kin, friendship,
political alliance, as well as bonds to places) were
articulated in the construction of personal and
communal identities. ‘Identity is not something
that people have, an unchanging set of qualities;
rather it is an ongoing act of production – an
inherently fluid set of properties under continual
construction and revision’ (Brück 2004: 311). It
is important to notice that these were relational
societies, where personhood was defined by
interpersonal relationships as much as by
personal associations to places.
The ‘prestige goods’ approach
Since the 1970’s, scholarly research on West
Hallstatt societies has remained deeply concerned
with macro-scale phenomena, in particular with the
definition of Fürstensitze and the consolidation of a
‘prestige goods economy’. Such a model, proposed
on the seminal paper of Frankenstein and
Rowlands (1978),6 established that a system of
domination and hierarchy (paramount chiefs,
vassal chiefs, sub-chiefs and village chiefs) was
based on the monopoly of the control of the
production by skilled craftsmen and of access to
goods imported from the Mediterranean. The
restricted access to rare goods legitimised their
social rank, investing them with special status and
prestige, which allowed the elites to control their
subordinates, who became dependant for the
supply of imported goods to legitimate their own
power and position at a local level (see Fig. 2
below). Thus, in return for such goods, minor
chiefs gave agricultural surpluses and their loyalty
to upper rank chiefs, who had the capacity to
support a network of allies. Moreover, Frankenstein
and Rowlands claimed that such controlled
access to prestige goods enabled higher chieftains
to enlarge their personal network by marriage
alliances (exchanging prestige goods for women),
which reinforced their pre-eminence in society.
Whereas, on one side, Frankenstein and
Rowlands’ model has been largely accepted by
scholars like Wells (1980, 1984, 1985) and Biel
(1985) amongst others, on the other, a number of
works have contested the basis and principles of such
a model. Champion (1982, 1985, 1994) criticized
their presumption of redistributive centres, whereas
Gosden (1985) argued against the existence of such a
stable system of alliance in European Iron Age
societies. Bintliff (1984), on the other hand, argued
(5) Woodward (2000) has discussed the existence of
these two types of memories in the construction of the
British barrows.
(6) This argument was equally presented in Frankenstein’s
PhD thesis submitted in 1977, which was published in
Spanish in 1997.
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Adriene Baron Tacla
Fig. 2. Structure of the model proposed by Frankenstein and Rowlands 1978.
that Frankenstein and Rowlands overestimated the
significance of burials as signs of rank, overlooking
the probable continuity from LBA chiefdoms and,
furthermore, overemphasizing the significance of
Mediterranean imports. For, in fact, the influx of
imports is too localized and restricted to be able to
support that sort of system.7
Eggert (1991), thought not directly discussing
Frankenstein and Rowlands’ model, underlines
the problematic nature of the concept of
‘prestige goods’, for its usually deployed as a
synonym for imported goods. Taking the
discussion further, authors like Witt (1996)
aimed at emphasising agency and resistance in
contacts with the Mediterranean signalling at
internal developments, which Dietler (1990,
1994, 1995, 1999) interprets according to the
habitus of the elites in the strategies of domination
and legitimation of their power.
However, it will be noticed that besides this
overvaluation of the Mediterranean influence,
one of the key problems in Frankenstein and
Rowlands’ model is that it relies on the assumption
of a political economy based on concepts of debt
and dependency. ‘Debt’ is the key principle of
traditional views on gift-giving. It acts as a
mechanism to regulate relationships in a gift
economy, which is moved by mutual obligations
– to give and receive presents (cf. Gosden 1989).
This actually binds people in a web of debts that
can never be completely paid off as every gift
offered establishes a new debt. In this case,
reciprocity would maintain social cohesion and
(7) The sixty-seven fragments of imported ware found
in Heuneburg constitute a total of thirteen Attic vessels
and four non-Attic, whereas in Châtillon-sur-Glâne
there were sixty-one fragments (mostly attic) and in
Mont Lassois the three hundred sherds represent circa
twenty-five vases (Champion 1994; Shefton 2000). It is
certain that these cannot be taken as absolute numbers,
for, in most cases, the area excavated is rather small
and for Mont Lassois it is unknown (Joffroy did not
specify the size of the area he dug). In this case, as
Brun (1997: 326) has mentioned, the figures would
assume the following proportion: in Châtillon-sur-
Glâne 1/7m² of Attic pottery and 1/6m² of amphorae,
whereas in Heuneburg it is 1/37.5m² and 1/25m²
respectively. Nonetheless, it is relevant to say that such
imports lasted solely for a restricted period. Additionally,
recent works on Greek colonisation (Arafat and Morgan
1994, Tsetskhladze 1998) have refuted the relevance of
trade of grain, slaves and wine in the contacts between
Greek colonies and barbarian polities.
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‘Prestation Economy’: a model for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age burial deposition in Central-Western Europe.
Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, São Paulo, 18: 133-153, 2008.
the stability of the system. Nevertheless, it implies
notions of modern western economics, which
assumes the existence of a moral constraint to
regulate relations as a substitute for market rules,
juridical law or institutionalised political hierarchy
(cf. Rowlands 1994: 2; Weiner 1994: 393-394).
Furthermore, this sort of perspective oversimplifies
gift-giving practice, overlooking the matter of
ownership (the social life of the object itself) and
its linkage to the production of social distinction
– aspects that are at the core of the political
economy in those societies.
A ‘prestation economy’: defining principles
As an alternative to the ‘prestige goods
economy’, I propose a model based on the notions
of ‘ritualisation’ and ‘prestation’. Prestation is a term
that can be used to qualify all sorts of things that
are given – such as gifts, offerings, tributes and debt
payment (King 2004: 217).8 Firstly, one could ask
why do I keep using the concept of ‘prestation’,
even though I say that there is no notion of debt or
reciprocity implied in such relationships? The
answer to that question actually lies at the heart of
‘ritualisation’, for many rites and ceremonies,
especially those evinced in the archaeological
record, require the offering of a gift.
The analyses of ritual done by Bell (1992) as
well as by Humphrey and Laidlaw (1994) have
clearly shown that ritual is practice, in Bourdieus’
sense (1977, 1990). Thus, ‘ritualisation’ is a way
of acting, a form of performance that implies not
solely fixed habits, mimetic behaviour and
established routines, but also involves rationality,
improvisation and innovation (Bell 1992;
Humphrey and Laidlaw 1994) (see Fig. 3 below);
so the same rite can be performed in different
ways. In fact, ritualisation is a situational (bound
to a context) and strategic practice (Bell 1992: 7-
8), a process that confers distinction to selected
moments, places and relationships in a given time
and society. Therefore, it is not restricted to a
certain domain of life, but permeates the social
texture and life in society as a whole, ordering the
world through the creation of general
dispositions, and founding discreet identities in
As shown in this diagram (Fig. 4), ritualisation
and prestation are the two vertices of what I
call a ‘prestation economy’. In this diagram, we
can see that ritualisation creates socio-political
distinction, so that it defines social distance,
power relations, and forms of authority. On
the other hand, ritualisation does not operate
as a means of control or coercion, nor does it
assume the predominance of a group or
ideology. Instead, it ‘is a strategic arena for the
embodiment of power relations’ (Bell 1992: 170)
that engenders power relationships, and
constitutes ways of negotiation and competition,
consent and resistance. Even though ritualisation
can configure a means of legitimation of
power and of the status quo, it is neither a
mechanism to disguise power strategies, nor an
instrument to express or symbolize them (Bell
1992: 195). This ability of producing hierarchy,
of creating distance amongst people places
ritualisation in the heart of social dynamics,
which can be archaeologically perceived in
settlements, funerary monuments, hoards and
sanctuaries; the observations here presented
focus mainly on burial practice in comparison
to votive deposits.
As previously mentioned, the assumptions of
debt and redistribution made in the model of
‘prestige goods economy’ produce the conception
of societies tightly controlled by powerful
chieftains through both kinship alliances
(exchange of women) and unbalanced reciprocity.
These were used as a means to create inequality
and dependency, which were therefore sustained
by the need for acquiring ‘prestige goods’ in
order to supply networks of subordinate chiefs.
Such presumptions actually rely on the
inference of grave-good deposits as denoting a
display of wealth and hierarchy. This pursues
the logic that rich burials represented the
deceased’s and/or his/her lineage wealth and
belongings, whereas more simple burials
corresponded to persons of lower social rank
who did not receive such imported items. This
(8) Here, I am focusing on two types of prestations:
gifts and offerings. Thus, these terms will be used as
equivalent to ‘prestation’ along this work.
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Adriene Baron Tacla
has actually led to a unilateral perception of
burial practice, detaching it from the broader
context of depositional practice. It is certain
that resistance, either open or surreptitious, is
hardly evinced in the archaeological material.
Nevertheless, the analysis of burials in the
regions of Bourges, Châtillon-sur-Glâne, Mont
Lassois and Hohenasperg do not evince a chain
of dependency, but rather patterns of concentration
coinciding with the act of giving gifts and
Such phenomenon corresponds to what
Weiner (1992, 1994) defined as the paradox of
‘keeping-while-giving’, i.e. the capability of certain
Fig. 3. Diagram of the dynamics of ritualisation. Shaded areas highlight the parts that can be observed in the
archaeological record and based the present analysis.
Fig. 4. Diagram of a prestation economy.
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‘Prestation Economy’: a model for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age burial deposition in Central-Western Europe.
Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, São Paulo, 18: 133-153, 2008.
individuals to keep inalienable possessions
(objects of high symbolic density)9 against their
social demand (and possibility of imminent loss),
giving instead alienable possessions (objects of
lower symbolic density).10 This means that
inalienable possessions are rarely put in circulation,
being given solely in special circumstances
(particularly for the establishment of alliances, in
case of war, of community distress or for the
occasion of death of ‘political dignitaries’).
Consequently, the prestations deposited in
burials were of inalienable character, for their
possession underpins the distinction of the
owner/receiver, ‘transforming difference into
rank’ (Weiner 1992: 18). It is almost certain that
there were different kinds of inalienable possessions.
At a first look, one can distinguish the items
according to provenience and typology (i.e.
local/imported items, keimelia/utilitarian items,11
decorated/non-decorated objects, and so forth).
However, prestations are not simply valued for
their richness, but notable for their history and
trajectory too.
Even though, the history of ownership of
such objects (probably the most important
factor to define inalienable prestations) cannot
be archaeologically traced, it is important to keep
in mind that prestations were given to overcome
the distance between people, enabling relationships.
Prestations created hierarchical distance amongst
people, since the possession, as well as the
borrowing of inalienable items, represents an
acquisition of prestige. This is apposite to all
those who make use of inalienable objects, for
such items comprise the character and distinction
of its owner (Weiner 1992: 102-104). Thus, if
prestige is transferable not solely through generations
or inside the same kin group, the offering of
inalienable items in the funeral performance
acquires a different perspective. In fact, they
become central instruments in the community’s
political economy.
Prestations to the dead
Most of the works discussing Late Bronze
Age and Early Iron Age burials in Central and
Western Europe focus on their interpretation as
symbols of status, markers of social hierarchy
and expressions of the emergent power of
chieftains. As previously pointed out, while
funerals and the creation of monuments are
significant instruments in the politics of such
societies, the quantity and the character of grave-
goods are not simply a sign of rank, of professional
specialization or of wealth. As Pearson (1998:
40) emphasises, possessions are also inherited,
kept or given away. Thus, when considering their
deposition in burials, one has to take into
account the observance of pre-set rules of funerary
rites, the audience and the performance of the rites,
since all contribute to the understanding of
mortuary practice and the social usage that
charged the ceremonies.
In this sense, the selection of the objects was
established by those individuals involved in the
ritual performance, particularly the closer
relatives, members of the kin group and, sometimes,
allies and friends. These selected objects had a
specific role and were representatives of personal
bonds as well as of a former life. As we shall see
later, not all grave-goods consisted of prestations.
Furthermore, some objects, as well as their
disposition within the grave, could be related to
aesthetic and decorative purposes, as in the case
of textiles and flowers. These are linked to the
ritual performance (cf. Pearson 1998). Although
it can be said that the complete sequence of
(9) Symbolic density constitutes the symbolic value
attributed to an object in society (Weiner 1994: 34).
An inalienable possession has its own social trajectory,
being unique in its value and in the relationships it
(10) It is important to note that there was no equivalence
between such prestations, since gifts of lower symbolic
density are not correspondent to high-density items
(Cf. Weiner 1994: 394).
(11) According to Scheid-Tissinier (1994: 41-49), the
term keimelia refers to prestige gifts, items of high
value, in many cases (in the Homeric poems) defined
as the treasures of the palaces, which included objects
made out of precious metals (such as vases, weapons
or jewellery). Hence, Fischer’s (1973) belief that the
imported metal vessels found in West Hallstatt
societies were keimelia – i.e. diplomatic gifts of
remarkable character. Kromer (1982), on the other
hand, believed that the Hallstatt chiefs received such
gifts on the occasion of visits to Massalia.
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Adriene Baron Tacla
funeral practice (and in particular prayers,
processions, wailing and the mourning of the
deceased) is not directly manifested in the
material evidence, the archaeological record
offers us the opportunity to explore several
aspects of such ritual practices – their dynamics
and their connotations.
Having said this, I shall then turn my
attention to the matter of identifying the
presence of prestations in the archaeological
record. I have argued elsewhere (Tacla 2008)
that the material culture shows a clear selection
of materials and artefacts both in burials and in
depositions in natural places. The analysis of the
latter shows the offering of prestations in rituals
performed at watery locations (mainly rivers,
confluences, and springs) and at dry locations at
promontories and plains (both near or inside
settlements). Such finds highlight: 1) the existence
of both prestige and ‘ordinary’ items; 2) the
predominance of ‘apparently’ ordinary items; 3)
the preponderance of the value of metal objects;
4) the emphasis on feast items, as well as on
weapons and sacrifice tools; 5) the use of objects
that define personal and collective identities.
On the other hand, the evidence of prestations
in burials is rather more complex, for not all
artefacts deposited in mortuary context consist of
prestations and some most probably represented
prestations received in other contexts (during the
deceased’s life) and were deposited together with
his possessions and other funerary prestations.
Thus, how can one distinguish amongst these
A priori, the position of artefacts in the
burial can be interpreted as a sign of such
distinctions, so that objects placed on or next to
the deceased’s body are interpreted as his/her
own belongings, whilst gifts could be seen at the
edges of the grave (cf. Evans 2001; King 2004;
Olivier 1999). However, this organisation of
objects is not the sole discrimination criterion.
King (2004), when analysing Anglo-Saxon
mortuary data, proposes six indicators of
funerary prestations, two of which are applicable
to the present cases: 1) duplication of artefacts,
and 2) unburnt inclusions in cremations. To
these, I propose to add: 3) objects that had
special treatment (e.g. breaking or wrapping) and
4) objects tailor-made for the funeral, which
despite being rare denote significant distinctions
in ritual performance.
In the regions under discussion, Late Bronze
Age and Hallstatt burials show clear evidence of
prestations represented by multiple deposits of
‘utilitarian items’ such as toilette items (like
combs), tools and weapons (similar to those
found in Late Bronze Age hoards and isolated
finds), as well as status symbols (like torcs12). In
addition, prestations related to banqueting sit in
a significant position in funerary ritual, with the
deposition of multiple items such as bowls, cups,
drinking-horns, and plates, as well as the offering of
a wide range of vessels composing full banqueting
sets. These could consist of coarse and fine local
pottery ware (as noticed particularly in the
unburnt inclusions in cremations), fine imported
pottery, and metal vessels of local or foreign
With regard to the cremation burials, few
contained objects (usually ornaments) that were
cremated with the deceased, and are therefore
interpreted as personal belongings. On the
contrary, the majority of such burials uncovered
various sorts of offerings – food offerings (rather
rare), weapons, tools, and a range of pottery
vessels that support the interpretation of
In addition, the analysis of the deposits
indicates two sorts of special treatment of
prestations: wrapping and breaking. A priori
suggesting antithetical actions – on one side the
careful wrapping protecting of particular objects
and on the other the ritual destruction of other
items – both measures constitute special (and
significant) handling of objects in ritual performance.
Breakage of objects in burials is a frequent
practice in these regions (as it is throughout
central-western Europe) during Bronze and Iron
ages. Occurring both in so-called ‘rich’ and
‘poor’ graves, the ritual destruction of funerary
prestations applies both to status signs like
(12) As Castro (1998) argues, torcs were sacred objects
that, like other jewels and adornments, were used as
symbol of the status of an individual and, therefore,
were also employed in exchanges.
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Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, São Paulo, 18: 133-153, 2008.
swords, daggers, and metal vessels, as well as to
utilitarian items like pins, axes, spears, knives, and
On the other hand, the wrapping of objects
in textile or leather is rarer, being restricted to
‘richer’ burials from Hallstatt and La Tène
periods. In these regions, such practice is identified
in a variety of objects: wagons,13 metal vessels,14
swords, razors, knives, bracelets, and fishhooks.15
Finally, tailor-made objects were rarely
offered as funerary prestations, the only exceptions
being seen in the case of Hochdorf central grave,
where a gold cup and gold ornaments were made
exclusively for the burial. This is probably not
due to effective costs, but to the socio-political
weight given to the life of objects, in particular to
their history of ownership, which constituted a
significant aspect of the value attributed to the
objects themselves. Moreover, the confection of
items tailor-made for funerals would imply an
expenditure of time that is usually not available
between the death and the burial ceremony.
Although each category of prestation is used
according to the specificity of the context (ritual
and relationships included) and the distinction
of the persons involved in the exchange, all sorts
of prestation are normalised by stipulated
principles of selection. Such rules structured not
only the offering of prestations amongst people,
but also the prestations given to the gods, the
dead and the ancestors. All such prestations were
valued by their social prestige, by their reference
to ritual and to some extent to what could please
the gods in order to gain their favour and
In the four regions studied herein, it becomes
clear that the more prominent prestations were
composed of metal artefacts16 which we know, by
and large, from classical sources to be highly
appreciated by barbarian peoples (cf. Lezzi-
Hafter 1997: 365; Tacla 2001: 66; Tsetskhladze
1998: 60). Therefore, the typology of prestations
shows a hierarchy of prestations that, nevertheless,
fitted into the same categories of expected gifts,
all corresponding either to ornaments, weapons,
tools or items of banqueting service.
Those deposits ought to be considered in the
context of the complete process of ritualised
practice, i.e. the rules of selection, pattern of
deposition, ritual experience, type of ritual,
audience and further implications and usages.
This showed that the presence of prestations in
(13) Banck-Burgess (1999: 26-28) points out that the
wrapping of a wagon (or wagon parts) occurs in
Burgundy (five cases), Baden-Württemberg (six cases)
and Belgium (one case).
(14) Joffroy (1979: 75) mentions that there were
vestiges of textiles over the crater and the silver bowl
from Vix T.1 (the latter probably wrapped). However,
a good part of the remaining textiles might have been
eliminated during the restoration of the metal objects;
so, at the present moment, vestiges of textiles are only
found in sections of the wagon wheels (cf. Rolley
2003: 287).
(15) The same can be seen in other regions, for
example, at Apremont/La Motte G.1, which contained
several iron items (as well as the wagon) wrapped in
textile. The occurrence of both treatments is known
elsewhere, for example in Gündlingen/Zwölferbruck,
where there was a broken sword-tip wrapped in cloth.
(16) In fact, the power, special properties and symbolic
meaning of metals (in particular of ironworking) for
European Iron Age populations has been discussed in
a number of works. Budd and Taylor (1995) called our
attention to the link between magic and metallurgy in
prehistoric Eurasia, suggesting that in European
prehistory there was an association between the role of
shamans and smiths. Along the same lines, Hingley
(1997) observed the peculiar condition of iron
smelting and smithing process in Wessex hillforts.
Thus, drawing from ethnographical research on
African ironworking, Hingley suggested that European
prehistoric ironworking was associated to the idea of
regeneration and to agricultural production, stressing
‘the magical and impressive nature of the acts of iron
working…’ (Hingley 1997: 15). Other scholars further
developed these observations. Creighton (2000), for
instance, applied the shamanic interpretation to coin
production, whereas Aldhouse-Green (2002) argued in
favor of an ‘alchemy of ironworking’, i.e. the magical
character of smithing whose mystique derives from the
mastering of fire, for it is considered as a craft that
involves a special ritual and requires magical properties
(Aldhouse-Green 2002: 16). Bradley (2005: 150-164)
claims that metalworking was not considered a daily
activity, and therefore shows how its practice involved
special significance and ritualised performance. Giles
(2007), on the other hand, sets the discussion further
by establishing the interrelationship between political
authority and metal objects, highlighting the metaphors
of power and transformation (e.g. procreation,
regeneration, life and death) embedded in metal
production, use and deposition.
Adriene Baron Tacla.pmd 05/05/2009, 23:12144
Adriene Baron Tacla
burials denotes a more elaborated ritual
performance, which marks distinct types of
funerals, so that burials without an accumulation
of prestations were more likely to be private,
rather than public, ceremonies.17 Nonetheless,
one should keep in mind that those who attended
the funerals knew what was absent in the
deposits, i.e. which items (inalienable or not)
were kept by the members of kin.
This is particularly noticeable in the occurrence
of looted burials. Some of them were completely
robbed, but in several a few objects were left in
situ. These usually included pottery,18 ornaments
and, as Pauli (1975) points out, apotropaic
objects (e.g. amber beads, amulets/pendants,
objects with amber and coral inlay, rattle
plates),19 which hints at a preference for certain
objects in the robbery of burials. For instance,
Zürn (1975: 102) attributes the strange position
of the skeleton in Gschnait T.1 to a probable
robbery of a torc. Moreover, in the cases of
Saint-Colombe-sur-Seine T.3 and Carrières à
Bachons G.1, which were robbed shortly after
the burial and only one side of the burial was
disturbed with the rest remaining intact,20 it is
clear that the robbers knew what they were
looking for. This becomes more evident in the
example of Grafenbühl’s central grave which,
looted 10-20 years after the burial (Zürn 1969),
had all the metal vessels removed, as indicated by
the two bronze tripod feet, which had broken
off, left behind in the tomb.21
Thus it would appear that the sort of item
that they were after conforms to what Fischer’s
keimelia – for they were imported metal objects
that stood out for their wealth, like the Vix
crater, the cauldron from Hochdorf, tripods
and vessels from Grafenbühl, La Garenne and
Römerhügel. In fact, the examples of burial
robbery allude to a form of resistance to the
obligation of giving prestations and of keeping
certain items out of the exchange, representing,
therefore, a means by which to recover or
acquire inalienable objects, reinserting them in
the community’s political dynamics. Undoubtedly,
one cannot trace back punishments or sanctions
for such practices. However, their reduced
occurrence shows that it was not well received by
the community and penalty measures might have
existed (as Strabo (4.1.13) mentions for later
Final remarks
In this paper, I have concentrated on the
burial assemblages of four micro-regions only.
However, the ideas and conclusions have shown
to be of a wider scope, which can be verified in
other cases and cultural regions, for they actually
correspond to protohistoric Pan-European
trends. It is also of remarkable importance to
highlight the significance of grave-robbing for
our understanding of protohistoric political
economy, particularly in the perspective of a
‘prestation economy’.
Most cases in the four study-regions
proved to be private ceremonies. Intimate
(17) The lavishly furnished, ostentatious burials did
not necessarily represent the richness of the deceased,
as ‘the absence of objects may reflect the nature of the
funeral, not the poverty of the deceased’ (Pearson
1998: 32). This, as Pearson emphasizes, shows a
distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ ceremonies,
i.e. celebrations with diverse degrees of intimacy and
communal involvement that underscore more the
relationships than the status of the deceased and of the
living themselves.
(18) For the case of Bois de Murat, the period of the
robbery is not known, but nineteen Etruscan bronze
plates, an iron rod and a bronze leg were left in the
(19) These are usually classified either as personal
belongings (for personal charms and protection) or as
means of protection for the living against the threat of
dangerous dead (cf. Pauli 1975).
(20) In Joffroy’s (1966-1987) opinion, probably due to
the absence of any valuable metal goods, the robbers
had stopped, not disturbing the entire burial.
However, in my view, this is not the case, for the
violation of just one side of the grave and the objects
left behind suggest, instead, knowledge of the burial,
its contents and their precise location.
(21) Similar is the case of Hohmichele G.I, which was
robbed a few years after the burial.
(22) In fact, for later periods, as Strabo (4.1.13)
mentions, there were sanctions against robbery of offerings
in sanctuaries and the same probably applied to burials.
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‘Prestation Economy’: a model for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age burial deposition in Central-Western Europe.
Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, São Paulo, 18: 133-153, 2008.
TACLA, A.B. ‘Prestation Economy’: a model for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age
burial deposition in Central-Western Europe. Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e
Etnologia, São Paulo, 18: 133-153, 2008.
Abstract: Since the 1970’s, rich burials like those of Vix and Hochdorf have
been analysed as the icons of a pan-regional phenomenon – the emergence of
traditional states, which is largely underpinned by the impact of their interaction
with Mediterranean societies. However, during the last two decades, there has
been significant criticism of such an interpretative model. In the core of such a
debate, this paper argues that the archaeological record provides evidence that
ritual deposits (likewise and alongside other forms of gift-giving) constituted a
significant part of what I name as ‘prestation economy’. In order to demonstrate
that, this paper analyses the burials and their grave-goods from the regions of
four Fürstensitze, namely: Bourges, Châtillon-sur-Glâne, Mont Lassois, and
Keywords: Gift-giving – European Iron Age – Ritualisation – Political
Economy – Burials – Grave-goods.
ceremonies appear in burials with a small
selection of grave-goods, for the absence of
large offerings suggests the attendance by a
small group, most likely the closer relatives of
the deceased. In this sort of ceremony, the
commemoration of personhood is evinced
not in the status symbols, but in personal
items, as well as in the presence and ritual
engagement of the intimate relations of the
deceased. These ceremonies mainly culminated
in the construction of ordinary, inconspicuous
monuments. Alternatively, communal funerary
ceremonies evince large ritualised performances,
which did not only engage close personal, but
also extended relations of the deceased. In
such rituals, there was a clear need to define
the personhood of the deceased, likewise of
those in the audience. This was done by
means of reification of relationships through
the offering of prestations, deposit of symbols
of status (demarcation of status), deposit of
personal items, and the construction of
conspicuous monuments.
At the same time that it commemorates the
deceased’s personhood, the shared experience
of public funerary performances establishes a
common and hegemonic memory that founds
ancestry and creates a collective identity.
Consequently, prestige is a significant variant in
the production of such memory and identity,
for it founds and regulates social distance.
I would like to thank the colleagues that
contributed to the discussion of earlier versions
of this work both at the IARSS 2005 and the
International Conference - Ritual Dynamics and the
Science of Ritual, 2008. I am grateful to Professors
Chris Gosden and Richard Bradley for their
observations and thoughtful advice. Last, but
not least, my special thanks to Sir Barry Cunliffe,
who supported this research with interest and
scholarly advice. Any responsibility for remaining
faults are my own.
Adriene Baron Tacla.pmd 05/05/2009, 23:12146
Adriene Baron Tacla
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... K. Kamp je u svojim radovima pokušala da bude jedna vrsta posrednika između procesnog modela i novih kritičkih stavova postprocesne arheologije, kada je definisala da je pogrebna praksa više pokušaj da se prikaže društveni status nego što je direktna reflekcija samog društvenog položaja (Kamp 1998, 94). Određene stvari nije moguće pročitati kao arheološki zapis, jer nisu ostavile traga, broj ljudi na groblju, ceremoniju, oplakivanje i žaljenje (Baron Tacla 2008, 142-143). 251 Бабић 2008, 79. ...
... Rowlands / Frankenstein 1998, 327-328; Baray 2008, 4; Govedarica 2002, 323. 311 Baron Tacla 2008, 139; Pare 1991, 186. 312 Babić 2002, 80 ...
... Humke koje sadrže ukope pokojnika iz bronzanog i gvozdenog doba predstavljaju osnovu jedne srodničke veze i povezivanja s predakom koja je karakteristična za pogla- varstvo. 313 Baron Tacla 2008, 139-140. Za kritiku pogledati još kod Dietler 1997, 297. ...
Full-text available
Ram’s head beads are well-known items of personal adornment in the Dolenjska Hallstatt cultural group. Recent analysis has demonstrated that they are the most common zoomorphic artefacts in this region with 187 currently known. This article updates the list of known beads and contextualizes their significance in the Dolenjska Hallstatt cultural group. It is argued that the sheep imagery of these beads and their distribution in female graves is related to local textile production. It is proposed that beads signalled aspects of personal and economic identity for Dolenjska Hallstatt women related to the production of high-quality textiles. In addition, the distribution of these beads demonstrates Iron Age community networks on the western frontier of Dolenjska, and perhaps even reflects the movement of women between communities.
Full-text available
The dead, collectively or individually, are sometimes powerful forces in human society. At other times they fade into relative insignificance. How archaeologists recover such ideological changes has repercussions for their interpretation of social organization and social change. Interpretations of status, gender, and ranking from funerary deposits are to a large extent dependent on archaeologists' abilities to interpret initially the relationship that the living construct with the dead. This contextual analysis of the Danish Iron Age uses studies of landscape and topography, and contrasts in material culture to situate the changing placement of the dead in society. Their increasing incorporation into the world of the living in the pre-Roman Iron Age indicates a growing concern with lineage and individual status. Later on, within the hierarchical ordering of Roman Iron Age society, the dead retained their significance for the living but in certain regions this was expressed in terms of their communality rather than status differences.
Examines the emergence in areas of dense population of centres servicing a region of villages, hamlets and farmsteads, characterised by the importance attached to defence, the production and distribution of imported craft goods, and administrative and possibly judicial and cult roles. -after Author
This article considers the social structures of Iron Age Europe north of the Alps and their effects on the production and exchange of items which end up in the archaeological record. The first part of the article presents a review of one explicit model of Iron Age society put forward by Frankenstein and Rowlands (1978), in which trade is seen as a crucial force, and the anthropological work on which it is based. Historical and linguistic records from Ireland and Britain are surveyed to draw up a different picture of Iron Age society in which control of local production is more important than trade and exchange in defining social position. A brief archaeological case study is presented from northwest Bohemia to illustrate the importance of production, rather than foreign trade, during the early Iron Age (c. 650-300 B.C.). Finally, the general implications for the role of trade are brought out and the relations between different areas of Europe are considered.
This article challenges the traditional assumption that the European Early Bronze Age saw the emergence of an ‘ideology of the individual’. It argues that the Early Bronze Age self was constructed in terms of interpersonal connections rather than the intrinsic attributes of a bounded individual. A discussion of mortuary rites in Britain and Ireland suggests that the objects placed in the grave allowed the mourners to comment metaphorically on the links between the dead and the living, as well as on the changes experienced by a community torn asunder by death. As such, we may argue that identity was a relational attribute; it was people’s relationships with others that made them who they were.
In this article we address the question of the emergence and development of copper and iron metallurgy in Eurasia in relation to a historical debate within archaeology and archaeometallurgy concerning appropriate technological scales and social organizational models. We believe that the concepts of large‐scale extraction and production and concomitant reconstruction of specialized activities and monoplex social roles that figure strongly in the prevailing, orthodox ‘industrial model’ are either underdetermined or unsupported by archaeological data. Such concepts represent an anachronistic back‐projection of the modern notion of technological change as driven by rational science. We suggest that ritual and magical dimensions need to be given a more central place in interpretation and hypothesis formulation, and we tentatively suggest a broad social‐developmental perspective that would incorporate them.
Large pits have long been known to be a characteristic of the British Iron Age. Originally they were thought to be habitations but since the 1930s they have been assumed to have served as grain silos. This paper reviews our changing conceptions and then considers a range of new data for special burials within the pits. A model is developed which sees the storage of seed grain in pits as a deliberate act designed to place the grain in the protection of the chthonic deities. the chronological and spatial implications of pit storage in Britain are briefly considered.