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What are we missing? An archaeothanatological approach to late Anglo-Saxon burials

Green, Emma C (2018) What are we missing? An archaeothanatological approach to late Anglo-Saxon burials. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

Archaeothanatology, a holistic approach conceived in France, examines detailed observations of the spatial positioning of skeletal elements in a grave, to characterize taphonomy and reveal funerary practices that would otherwise be archaeologically invisible. However, archaeothanatology suffers from a lack of comparative case studies exploring the effects of different burial environments upon the decomposition and disarticulation of a human corpse in the grave. Furthermore, investigations into funerary practices applying a taphonomic approach are seldom contained in published reports for burials in England. This has resulted in potentially valuable evidence for funerary practices being overlooked. This study evaluates the utility of archaeothanatology as a tool for reconstructing original burial form from an archaeological grave context, with specific focus on the identification of wooden containers from the late Anglo-Saxon period (c.A.D.6501100). Recent data suggests a variety of different containers for the body were commonly used but identifies so-called ‘plain-earth graves’ as the norm. Many containers will have been constructed entirely from wood, decomposing completely, rendering them archaeologically invisible confounding attempts to explore their prevalence. Presently various inconsistent evidence is used to identify possible wooden containers. A taphonomy-based analysis of skeletons from graves where preserved wood and metalwork provided conclusive evidence for coffins was undertaken. This information, as well as adding to our overall knowledge about decomposition in a wooden container, has been used to develop a tailored method to assist in identifying coffined burials. The method was applied to three cemeteries containing burials without surviving evidence for coffins. The results indicate that the prior default determination of ‘plain-earth’ in a substantial number of burials was flawed. From the sample studied, 41% were identified as decomposing in a void, 28% more than originally identified through evidence from funerary architecture alone. Thus, confirming archaeothanatology can improve burial interpretations and is beneficial to funerary archaeology.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Archaeothanatology, taphonomy, burial, late Anglo-Saxon
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > Archaeology (Sheffield)
The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Science (Sheffield) > Archaeology (Sheffield)

The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.766540
Depositing User: Mrs Emma C Green
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2019 10:40
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2019 20:05
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/22813

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