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The story so far

The story so far
Welcome back. We’ve already started to build up a picture of the individual we’re focusing on for this course. Let’s take a moment to recap what we know and what we still need to find out. Cremations were a common practice during the first three centuries of Roman Britain. These cremations aren’t the same as what you would expect today. Roman funeral pyres couldn’t reach the temperatures and intensity that modern crematoriums do, resulting in cremations with larger bone fragments that can be analysed. We also know that only part of the cremated remains would have been collected. So the bone fragments in each pot will depend on what was gathered from the pyre, and not reflect the entire body.
Doctor Emily Carroll talked to us through the process and the challenges of analysing these human cremations. She demonstrated how we can use the bones themselves to determine information about the funeral pyre. The change in the colour of the bone is a result of heat exposure, and can indicate the intensity of the fire as well as the quality of the pyre maintenance. Knowing that individuals had to pay professionals to build and maintain their pyre, this allows us to infer about their possible status and wealth. The individual we’re focusing on had remarkably white fragmented remains, suggesting that they were burnt on a large pyre capable of reaching temperatures as high as 800 or 900 degrees Celsius.
You’ve made a good start to building the profile of this person by examining how they were cremated, however, we have many more questions about who they were and how they lived. What was the biological sex of this person and how old were they when they died? Did they have any diseases before they died? If so, how did they affect them when they were alive? We’ll meet Emily again this week to discover how further osteological and isotope analysis can provide the answers to these questions. Finally we’ll discuss what this reveals about what it means to be Romano British.

So far you’ve explored the Roman attitudes to death and how it was the responsibility of the living to ensure that the transition from life to death was dignified. Great significance was given to the funeral pyre as well as the funeral process, after which bone fragments were collected together in a pot for burial.

Watch Carolina recap what we’ve discovered from the bone fragments of COL_20 so far and explain what still needs to be investigated in order to build a more detailed picture about this person.

COL_20: Profile of an individual

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Dead Interesting: Uncovering Roman Britain in Old Museum Collections

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