RIGHTLINGSEA is the most exhaustively excavated Deverel-Rimbury cemetery excavated in East Anglia to date. The DeverelRimbury culture used to belong to the Middle Bronze age and was considered to be a group of French invaders in the Bournemouth region who left behind flat cemeteries containing large numbers of crude, but rather large burial urns. It also has an offshoot in Essex, which used to be known as the Ardleigh culture after an excavation carried out at Vince's Farm, Ardleigh by Ian Longworth; it is now called Later Bronze Age and Ardleigh has become a 'tradition'. However a very interesting example has been excavated on the Brightlingsea peninsula on the eastern side of the Colne estuary.
The excavation was in advance of a gravel quarry. Planning permission for the quarry dated back to the 1950s, before the practice of attaching Planning Conditions for archaeological investigations. Thus funding came from English Heritage together with Tendring and District Council, the Prehistoric Society and Essex County Council while the Alresford Sand and Ballast Company not only gave its permission but also removed the topsoil so that excavation took place from October 1989 to February 1990.
The site consisted of two distinct types of monuments, ring ditches and burials in cremation urns in pits; but apart from three cases, the ring ditches did not contain burials, and the burials were outside the ring ditches. Furthermore, there was no stratigraphical relationship between the two. Presumably the ring ditches preceded the flat cemetery and are all that remains of round barrows of the type often seen in Wessex and elsewhere earthern monuments of all types rarely survive in Essex.
There were thirty-one ring ditches within the area excavated, ranging from 4 to 12 metres in diameter, averaging about 8 metres. The ditches had been rapidly infilled with virtually sterile natural silts; there was no sign of any revetting of the mounds that presumably lay within the rings.
In the north western corner there were however three ring ditches lying close together which contained central cremation burials; one also had a satellite cremation on the inner side of the ring ditch. Presumably these mark a transitional phase when a new burial rite was adopted involving the digging of deeper pits.
The cremations were inserted between existing barrows. In all 43 burial pits were present containing a total of 46 individual cremations. Nearly three-quarters of them were buried in urns, all of which are Deverel Rimbury urns of the Ardleigh type. Many of these vessels were complete or nearly so and in very fine condition.
The burials can be subdivided according to type and orientation. Thus 13 cremations were not in urns at all but the remaining 33 were in 30 single vessels and three burials were doubles (of two vessels each). Of the vessels 16 were buried in an upright position, 15 were inverted, one was buried on its side, and one was uncertain. The cremations tended to occur in clusters of up to eight, usually placed between adjacent rings. The group sometime contained all three main types though in some cases there was clear preference for a single type: for example, one group contained seven inverted vessels and two unurned cremations. The double burials
Plan of the cemetery. The circles are ring ditches, which presumably surrounded barrows. Note that the cremations were, with four exceptions, all found outside the barrows.
CURREN T ARCHAEOLOG Y 12 6