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Bayesian chronological modelling of the early Iron Age in Southern Jutland, Denmark

cand. scient. Helene Agerskov Rose

This dissertation project is part of the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) “1266 Scales of Transformation: Human-environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies”, placed within the sub-cluster G1: “Setting the Frame”.

A chronological framework is needed when investigating transformations and turning points in prehistory, but such systems are focused on long-term patterns on a broad geographical scale, disregarding the temporality of transformation processes on a smaller scale. In my project I assume that changes in material culture happen gradually, but that the speed and character of these may vary, thereby challenging the traditional view on transformations as abrupt events, and instead propose seeing them as processes with divergent temporal durations. I will study timescales of change; investigating the nature of smaller transformations in the material culture, i.e. if they are sudden, gradual or go through more complex temporal processes.

For this project I have chosen to work with material from urnfield cemeteries, which was a new burial rite in Denmark around the Bronze-Iron Age transition, indicating a change in the social and cultural system, whereas settlement evidence depicts a seemingly continuous trend. Pre-Roman Iron Age chronologies for Denmark are based on traditional metal-based typologies with subsequently attributed ceramic types, but researchers have shown it to be difficult to harmonize the materials, possibly because of divergent chronological sensitivities. Metal artefacts are practically absent from settlement contexts and without a detailed chronology for ceramics, it is impossible to compare settlement and funerary evidence, i.e. to understand whether the changes in funerary practice reflect a broader transformation in society.

Because of a plateau in the radiocarbon calibration curve between 750 and 400 cal BC, archaeologists have regarded radiocarbon dating as unhelpful, making it difficult to critically review the existing typo-chronologies on the basis of the very few available absolute dates. In order to investigate the temporality of transformation processes in this period, it is necessary to improve the chronological resolution of the traditional periodization.

In this project I will radiocarbon date a large number of cremated human remains from a number of urnfield cemeteries from Southern Jutland in Denmark. I will combine the dates with prior knowledge of associated artefacts and site formation processes in a Bayesian chronological framework, enabling me to investigate the nature of transformations in the material culture and critically review the existing typo-chronologies for the period. 

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