Book review: ‘Buried’ by Prof. Alice Roberts

‘Buried’ by Prof. Alice Roberts

My computer-based notes system takes a hammering whenever I read one of Prof. Alice Roberts’s books. She writes on subjects of interest to me which have little to do with my current major project, but which I suspect might crop up in future projects. So, while reading this book, in among my hundreds of notes about Charles Darwin, I found myself making notes about why ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is a problematic term; how high levels of strontium in excavated skeletons can be an indicator that the people in question used seaweed for fertiliser; how the etymologies of the words ‘pagan’ and ‘heathen’ both refer to people who lived in the countryside; and how ancient DNA can be used to identify specific pathogens associated with different plagues. (I know, I probably should get out more.)

As with all of Roberts’s books, Buried is a fascinating read, exploring various funerary rituals observed in first-millennium Britain, and the various ways in which we might interpret them. Why, for example, would a significant number of Romano-British burials involve decapitation? And why were certain ancient burials accompanied by blingy grave-goods, and others not?

Roberts discusses various cultures associated with this period—Romano-British, Anglo-Saxon, Viking—and how archaeology has brought into question certain historical accounts and interpretations. In a fascinating section near the end, she explains how the long-standing ‘culture-history’ archaeological paradigm has been challenged by ‘cultural diffusion’ theory. In other words, are changes in material culture over time (artefacts, funerary practices, etc.) an indication of the latest ‘wave’ of new settlers arriving on the scene, or are they an indication of people adopting new ideas from elsewhere? Or perhaps, as seems more likely, is it sometimes one, sometimes the other, and sometimes a combination of the two?

As with its predecessor, Ancestors, Buried comes highly recommended by this reader. I look forward to reading (and making copious notes from) the final book of this trilogy, Crypt.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…

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