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A multiscalar approach to medieval animal cremains: from bone microstructure to multiregional trends

Author(s): Katherine French

Year: 2016

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Variability is a defining characteristic of early medieval pagan mortuary practice. Groups may have buried individual decedents in myriad ways all falling under the definition of ‘pagan.’ When the variability of a specific ritual practice is compared at the community rather than individual level, however, then local and regional trends emerge. One such ritual practice is the incorporation of animals into human cremations – a practice common in terminal Iron Age and early medieval mortuary contexts across northwestern Europe. This paper examines the prevalence of animal deposits in Early Saxon (450-650 AD) cremations, and suggests that “communities of ritual practice” who cremated and buried their dead in this manner can be identified on multiple scales, from the intracemetery to the interregional. Previous studies demonstrated the likelihood of these communities, although geographically limited to East Anglia, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire. Using advanced cremation analysis techniques, in particular histological methods developed for the identification of small bone fragments, new data suggest that approximately one in five burials contained commingled animal remains in Early Saxon cremation cemeteries across England suggesting highly structured communities of ritual practice. Future research will expand beyond Britain to identify related “communities of ritual practice” on a broader scale.

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A multiscalar approach to medieval animal cremains: from bone microstructure to multiregional trends. Katherine French. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 404422)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America