Materialising descent: lineage formation and transformation in Early Neolithic southern Britain

Cummings, Vicki orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-9460-1517 and Fowler, Chris (2023) Materialising descent: lineage formation and transformation in Early Neolithic southern Britain. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society . ISSN 0079-497X

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This paper builds on the recent aDNA results from Hazleton North chambered tomb to explore how people might have repeatedly negotiated kinship, descent and affinity in Early Neolithic southern Britain. Hazleton North was constructed around 3700 BC, was in use for less than a century, and — unlike many other Cotswold-Severn tombs — was never modified to alter the arrangement of chambers. The aDNA analysis from 35 individuals whose remains were deposited at the site revealed that 27 were biologically related and represented five sequential generations. Here we explore changing practices across those generations. We argue that Hazleton North was constructed to demonstrate the vitality of a lineage at a specific moment in time while choices about who to entomb indicate an inclusive expansion of the lineage in the first two generations which is not evident during the remaining generations. We argue that by the third generation lineage members increasingly chose to dispose of the remains of their dead elsewhere. Hazleton North was built in a landscape rich in earlier tombs, many of which were modified to produce long cairns with multiple chambers: some of those formed opposed pairs similar to the chambered areas at Hazleton North. We argue this was part of a growing trend in ‘kinship work’ which accentuated lineal descent and sub-lineage distinctions in the centuries around 3700 BC. However, deposition at Hazleton North was short-lived. This can be set in the local context of not only the construction and use of further chambered tombs but also increasing investment in larger, corporate projects like causewayed enclosures. These enclosures formed new arenas where negotiations of descent and community were played out with increased intensity and in different ways to activities at chambered tombs. Overall, we argue that kinship, affiliation and belonging were repeatedly renegotiated among the monument-building communities of Early Neolithic southern Britain.

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