Laws, Funerals and Cemetery Organisation: the seventh-century Kentish family.

Sayer, Duncan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2769-1281 (2009) Laws, Funerals and Cemetery Organisation: the seventh-century Kentish family. In: Mortuary Practice and Social Identities in the Middle Ages. University of Exeter Press (UEP), Exeter, pp. 141-166. ISBN 978-0859898317

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Archaeological studies of kinship have been scarce in recent scholarship. Anglo-Saxon archaeology has tended to assume kinship was important without considering how or what the kindred’s role was within society or the burial rite. Recent studies of burial archaeology have focused on topical issues like age, gender or group identity without the context within which they exist: the family and household. This paper will begin to redress this imbalance by comparing the archaeological evidence of two Kentish cemeteries, Mill Hill and Finglesham, with the seventh-century legal sources, also from Kent. I will focus on cemetery organisation by considering grave location, burial wealth and grave structures. This paper builds on research by Heinrich Härke (1997a) who successfully combined written sources and material evidence to offer an insightful and vivid picture of Anglo-Saxon social structure. I will offer the hypothesis that the seventh-century final phase burial rite involved not just a reduction in grave goods but also a transformation in the funerary rite and in the use of cemetery space. I will suggest that this is because the emphasis of the funeral changed from expressing the unity of an extended household to emphasising familial relationships. This shift took place in a time when wealthy kindreds were increasingly in conflict with a newly powerful system of kingdoms.

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