Talking About My Generation: the Date of the West Kennet Long Barrow

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Wysocki, Michael Peter ; Wittle, A ; Bayliss, A (2007)

Thirty-one radiocarbon results are now available from the West Kennet long barrow, and are presented within an interpretive Bayesian statistical framework. Two alternative archaeological interpretations of the sequence are given, each with a separate Bayesian model. In our preferred interpretation, the barrow is seen as a unitary construction (given the lack of dating samples from the old ground surface, ditches or constructional features themselves), with a series of deposits of human remains made in the chambers following construction. Primary deposition in the chambers is followed by further secondary deposition of some human remains, including children, and layers of earth and chalk, the latest identifiable finds in which are Beaker sherds. In the Bayesian model for this sequence, the construction of the monument at West Kennet, as dated from the primary mortuary deposits, occurred in 3670–3635 cal. BC, probably in the middle decades of the thirty-seventh century cal. BC. The last interments of this initial use of the chambers probably occurred in 3640–3610 cal. BC. The difference between these two distributions suggests that this primary mortuary activity probably continued for only 10–30 years. After a hiatus probably lasting for rather more than a century, the infilling of the chambers began in 3620–3240 cal. BC and continued into the second half of the third millennium cal. BC. In an alternative interpretation, we do not assume that all the people dated from the primary mortuary deposits were placed in the monument in a fleshed or partially articulated condition; they could therefore have died before the monument was built, although they must have died before the end of the formation of the mortuary deposit. In the Bayesian model for this interpretation, the monument appears to belong either to the thirty-seventh century cal. BC or the mid-thirty-sixth century cal. BC, and deposition again appears short-lived, but the model is unstable. Results are discussed in relation to the setting and sequence of the local region.
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