April 29, 2021

Darganfod-Discovery 2021: Eirini Konstantinidi

Eirini Konstantinidi, PhD researcher at Cardiff University, on ‘If the dead could talk: a taphonomic approach to Neolithic mortuary treatment in the caves of Wales’.

There are a range of burial practices in the Neolithic. This research examines burials in caves, with direct evidence of Neolithic activity, focusing on twenty sites in Wales and one in north Somerset. This project employs an integrated taphonomic approach, combining macroscopic analysis of bone surface preservation and microscopic analysis of bone microstructure (histology). The provision of new dating evidence from ten of the sites examined in Wales will also maximise the interpretative resolution of the project. By undertaking traditional and novel osteological analysis this research will examine pre-and post-depositional treatment of the deceased and the means by which bones became disarticulated. Current research has progressed our understanding of burial practices in subterranean environments, however, a substantial corpus of funerary remains of prehistoric date, with many dating to the Neolithic, have not been subject to holistic study.

Macroscopic taphonomic analysis (visual osteological examination of surface modifications of human remains) provides information on the degree and duration of exposure of the remains, the nature of manipulation and/or disturbance of the bones and the agents of these modifications impacted onthe bone. In addition, microscopic analysis (thin section microscopy under transmitted light microscopy to assess the degree and nature of microstructural bioerosion) provides insight into early post-mortem processes and reveals the rate and nature of soft tissue decay.

This presentation outlines initial findings for the taphonomic analysis on sites across Wales. Burial patterns and practices revealed from analysis of disarticulated remains are presented, including some unusual case studies, and future plans for analysis described.