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Death and Fire: Investigating changes and specialisation in cremation practices in Belgium during the Metal Ages

Thursday 3 September - 4 PM

Elisavet Stamataki 

MARI-HARP-VUB

ABSTRACT: Cremated human bones are commonly found in Belgian archaeological contexts from the Metal Ages (Early Bronze Age to the Late Iron Age). Due to high temperatures reached during burning (up to 1000°C), organic components of bone disappear and significant structural, chemical and isotopic changes to the inorganic fraction of bone (bone apatite) take place. These changes, along with post-burial/taphonomic alterations make the study of cremated human remains extremely challenging. Despite these limitations, cremated bones play an increasingly important role in understanding ancient societies in which cremation was the dominant funerary practice. A huge diversity exits in the way cremation was practiced. It is related to the different attitudes of ancient communities towards death and different managements and treatments of the dead body. The aim of this project is to combine ethnographical evidence, experimental archaeology and state of the art analytical techniques to assess changes in the way cremation was carried out in Belgium and beyond from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Iron Age with a particular focus on the skills and specialisation of the cremator(s) (i.e. the person(s) carrying out the cremation). Understanding differences within and between archaeological sites represent a fundamental part of this project as it enables the study of the evolution of cremation funerary practices through time and space.