Buried: An Alternative History of the First Millennium in Britain

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Review

Kelly Macquire
by
published on 19 February 2024
Buried: An alternative history of the first millennium in Britain
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Title: Buried: An alternative history of the first millennium in Britain
Author: Alice Roberts
Audience: General Public
Difficulty: Medium
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Published: 2022
Pages: 351

"Buried: An Alternative History of the First Millennium in Britain" by Alice Roberts is the second book in her trilogy of books exploring the history of Britain through skeletons and burials. Utilising modern techniques and DNA research, Roberts explores what we can learn about Britain in the first millennium through numerous burials, including many that are considered 'deviant.' Like her first instalment, "Buried" is a wonderfully insightful book for lovers of archaeology and British history.

Buried: An Alternative History of the First Millennium in Britain by osteoarchaeologist Alice Roberts is the second book in her trilogy that unpacks Britain’s history through skeletal remains. Following Ancestors: A Prehistory of Britain in Seven Burials (2021), which focuses on the prehistory of Britain through seven burials, Buried instead looks at Britain in the first millennium CE through Roman Britain, contact with the Vikings, and the spread of Christianity across the country. Roberts utilises modern and up-to-date evidence including skeletal remains, archaeological evidence, and DNA research to interrogate what we know about Britain during this period and how we know it.

They, like us, were individuals who lived lives that didn’t necessarily fit a mould.

Probably because it spans a period where there is more available evidence from various contexts, Buried spends more time discussing the more general historical environment and contextualising the burials within a wider picture. The first chapter delves into a fascinating Roman cremation burial at Caerleon called the ‘Caerleon pipe burial’, which got its same because of the lead pipe sticking out of the top of the lead canister full of cremated remains that would have once stuck out of the ground. Roberts discusses the potential explanations for this unique burial while also juxtaposing the broader historical period of Roman Britain and the microhistory of Caerleon. Readers finish the chapter feeling as though they were taken along for the ride whilst Roberts evaluated the various possibilities of the person buried and why they had a lead pipe connecting their burial to the living world above them.

This is the general setup for each chapter focussing on a different part of the United Kingdom and a different burial. The second chapter explores a Roman villa associated with numerous infant burials, and another chapter introduces the overall concept of ‘deviant burials’ which essentially means irregular or strange burials. This concept is discussed with the headless skeletons found at Great Whelnetham. These burials were decapitated, sometimes with the skulls found between the legs, and some were even prone or face down. Roberts looks at Anglo-Saxon history in Britain (and even delves into the issues of using the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in the first place) and broadens her discussion further with the Staffordshire hoard and the issues archaeologists face when dealing with hoards of artefacts.

By the end of the book, after learning about Roman Britain, Anglo-Saxon history, Viking connections, and even the very first churchyards used as cemeteries, readers truly feel well-versed in the various and wide-ranging burial practices that were utilised in Britain during the first millennium. I think Roberts does a wonderful job at connecting the modern reader with the ancient inhabitants of Britain, reminding us that they, like us, were individuals who lived lives that didn’t necessarily fit a mould, as highlighted by the range of burial goods and the numerous deviant burials. A wonderful addition to this book was the colour images and the lovely illustrations at the beginning of each chapter that set the reader up for the kind of burials and artefacts featured in the coming section. As with Ancestors, I feel like having maps throughout, or one map at the beginning highlighting all the areas discussed would be beneficial, especially for those not from Britain.

Overall, this was a fascinating, well-written, and insightful analysis of Britain in the first millennium through presenting readers with the most recent evidence.

This review was originally posted on Kell-Read.

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About the Reviewer

Kelly Macquire
Kelly is a graduate from Monash University who has completed her BA (Honours) in Ancient History and Archaeology, focussing on iconography and status in Pylos burials. She has a passion for mythology and the Aegean Bronze Age.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Macquire, K. (2024, February 19). Buried: An Alternative History of the First Millennium in Britain. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/review/398/buried-an-alternative-history-of-the-first-millenn/

Chicago Style

Macquire, Kelly. "Buried: An Alternative History of the First Millennium in Britain." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified February 19, 2024. https://www.worldhistory.org/review/398/buried-an-alternative-history-of-the-first-millenn/.

MLA Style

Macquire, Kelly. "Buried: An Alternative History of the First Millennium in Britain." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 19 Feb 2024. Web. 15 Jul 2024.

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