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FW: Anglo-Saxon Cremation Burila pts 1 and 2 of 4

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  • Jordsvin
    Anglo-Saxon Cremation Burial pt 1 of 4 An Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England by Julian D. Richards After Empire: Towards An Ethnology of Europe s Barbarians;
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2007
      Anglo-Saxon Cremation Burial pt 1 of 4
      An Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England by Julian D. Richards
      After Empire: Towards An Ethnology of Europe's Barbarians; ISBN

      Anglo-Saxon cremation burials constitute one of the richest data sets
      for early Anglo-Saxon England. Most people dying in England from AD
      400 to 650 could expect to be cremated. Although the inhumation
      cemeteries are numerically superior, the majority seem to have
      contained fewer than a hundred burials, while a cremation cemetery
      typically contains several hundred and frequently several thousand

      Cremation burial was common in Roman Britain, although it appears to
      have lost popularity towards the end of the Roman period. However,
      the arrival of Germanic immigrants seems to have led to the
      reintroduction of the cremation rite in what is now England.

      The sites of funeral pyres have rarely been clearly identified in
      England. This has led to the suggestion that the bodies must have
      been cremated elsewhere and brought to the cemetery as a collection
      of ashes. This would certainly have been the obvious answer to the
      problem of transporting a body and fuel to a central cemetery site,
      which may have been some distance from the settlement of the
      deceased. A number of pyres, apparently one for each burial, have
      been excavated in the North German cemetery of Liebenau

      Cremation burial would, in fact, have been more labour intensive than
      inhumation, demanding the collection of considerable amounts of
      firewood. The most effective method of constructing the pyre would
      probably have been to erect a low platform of the more substantial
      timbers, upon which the body would have been placed. More timber,
      including lighter brushwood, would then have been heaped over and
      around the body. Once ignited, the pyre would fairly rapidly have
      reached a temperature of ca 8000 C, the normal temperature for a
      substantial open bonfire. However, the evidence for the fusing of
      glass and the vitrification of sand suggests that considerably higher
      temperatures were sometimes reached, well in excess of 10000 C.

      It appears that once the ashes had cooled, the fragments of burnt
      bone and fused objects with which the corpse had been decked were
      deliberately and meticulously collected.

      AASE: Cremation pt 2/4
      An Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England by Julian D. Richards
      After Empire: Towards An Ethnology of Europe's Barbarians; ISBN

      The cremated bones from many sites also include the remains of a
      variety of animals. These appear to represent more than joints of
      meat from a funeral feast. They most frequently include sheep and
      cow, but horse and pig are also common. The remains of various
      wildfowl, as well as deer, dog and cat have also been identified. It
      seems to have been normal practice for a cremation to include just
      one class of animal. The animals appear to have been regarded as
      another class of grave-goods, as representatives of the possessions
      of the deceased.

      Numbers of animals included in cremation urns at Elsham: (Species:

      Sheep: 49; Horses: 37; Pig: 15; Cattle: 11; Birds: 3; Deer: 1

      Once gathered together, the cremated remains were then generally
      buried in pottery vessels or cremation urns. The pits were not deep,
      generally being found about half a metre below the surface, although
      erosion of the topsoil in exposed places has sometimes brought them
      closer to the surface, where they are vulnerable to ploughing. The
      urns were generally buried singly, but sometimes pairs of urns have
      been found in the same pit, and occasionally larger groups have been
      recorded. Although these must have been buried together at one
      ceremony, this does not necessarily mean that the deaths occurred at
      the same time, as part of an epidemic perhaps. We may reasonably
      suppose that cremation must have followed shortly after death, but
      the cremated ashes could have been preserved for some time before
      being buried in their ultimate resting place. Similarities between
      the pottery vessels in paired burials, and combinations of male and
      female or of adult female and child, suggest that these grouped
      burials may sometimes represent family plots.

      In most cemeteries the burials are found at least one metre apart,
      although they are rarely in rows or any other regular pattern, being
      apparently randomly spaced. However, they are rarely disturbed by
      later burials, and where this does occur it appears that deliberate
      care has been taken to avoid damaging the first burial, placing the
      later ones carefully over it or alongside it. This suggests,
      therefore, that the position of the cremations must have been
      indicated by some above-ground marker. There is rarely any
      archaeological trace of this, and although post-holes are sometimes
      identified in the cemeteries there is little to suggest that each
      burial had a marker post. The remains of cairns of stone and flint
      are sometimes recorded, although they have often been disturbed by
      ploughing. These would have formed miniature barrows over each burial
      plot, making them visible landscape features.
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