Report on Human Remains from Abingdon, 1976.

Skeletal report on human remains from Ashville, Abingdon

The material comprised fragments from six Bronze Age cremations (SAB/MG76) numbered 1017; 1032; 1033; 1043; and 1054.  Together with the above fragments miscellaneous human bones (SIB/MG 74) were also examined, these being 69(2); 72; 79; 3921 and 388. These fragments were associated with Iron Age features.

All of the above cremations had been subjected to post-process pounding. A technique that does not always allow for accurate identification or analysis. Most of the above material was mimed with animal bones (both burnt and unburned), stone and flint fragments, a mollusc shell, and also unburned human bone. The size of the fragments varied as did the level of combustion. Cremation heat had varied – the charring and whitening indicating a relatively low temperature compared to that which fissured, distorted and twisted other fragments. Blue staining indicated pretence of uncombusted organic matter,  The above applies to cremations listed above except for 1033.

The following is a further tentative analysis concerning that individual due to some peculiarities of the burning. The results of the heat in this specimen were restricted to blackening (charring) of the bones. However, a portion of skull indicated a black coloured glaze which suggests blood was still present, Other portions of bone showed signs of distortion due to fire. It is a possibility in this case that the burning have been accidental, although intentional mutilation cannot be ruled out. [Supportive evidence is in Brothwell: Digging Up Bones].

Usually cremated bones vary in colour from white, grey, grey-brown through to brown, grey-blue, to. black. Blue colouration indicates remaining organic material, whilst blue-green or green staining indicates proximity to metal. The large amounts of lightish bones-in the above cremations suggests some measure of protection (urns, pots etc), Cremation 1054 which is possibly an infant may also be a token interment of a fraction of the remains, (see Gejfalis:  Science in Archaeology, page 471, 1969).

Age and sex determination of the cremated fragments was based on the data from that used for determinations in uncremated remains. Statistical data from cremated fragments (Gegen, ibid) also indicates that on average male remains are more robust than female (bone walls are about 1/4 thinner in females).
The animal bones found with the human fragments were from small animals (rabbits, chickens, lambs?) and from a much larger animal (as with 1017) (cow? calf?) which were unburned. Animal remains may be associated with a burial feast. If lamb bones are found it may indicate season of the cremation (lambs are born March-April), Biometrically the ages of the individuals and their sex can be deduced after long and complicated statistical analysis, however in this instance approximate estimations have been made on the basis of average tables from other researches.

Summary of Cremation 1017. Young adult, possible female (possible gracile male), Associated animal bones, Varied temperature range in cremation process.
1632: Late adolescent, possible male. Incomplete combustion of organic matter indicates variable temperature. dental burning or incomplete cremation due to unknown circumstances.  1043: Young adult. Gracile features indicate female sex. Associated with burnt animal bones and one half of a bivalve (freshwater?) mollusc.

Fragments evidence variable cremation temperature. 1054: Infant. Minute fragments and organic matter (charcoal?). Suggests token deposition or combustion loss of remainder of burnt individual. Miscellaneous bones SAH/MG 74.  An assortment of individual bones from different individuals (at least 3). Number 69 comprises 2 individuals – an lutist and an older. child (about 4 yrs). Specimen 72 comprised a tibial portion which was light and gracile suggest¬ing female sex evidenced also by weakly pronounced ridges and articular surfaces. The appearance of the shaft indicated also young adulthood, In Specimen 79 there was only an incomplete occipital bone the robustness of which indicated male sex. Suture analysis (exercise caution) indicated an age range of mid-20’s to late 30’s. Specimen 388 consisted of a lumbar vertebrae showing developing osteophytosis and possible osteoporosis. If it is osteoporosis we could conclude post menopausal female. Tentatively conclude that this individual was a mature female with articular degenerations of region of the spine due to advancing age. Specimen 392 was a piece of the proximal shaft of femur. Robustness in the absence of pathology indicates male sex and adulthood.


Eventually published in Report Number 1. Oxfordshire Archaeological Unit and Council for British Archaelology, Research Report no. 28 (1978).


Leave a comment

Filed under Research

Discussion & Comment Welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s