Why cremated human remains workshops?

What always has been apparent for us is that most of the training in biological / forensic anthropology / bioarchaeology etc. don't cover the cremated remains. The interest starts to grow as new publications show, but the methods are not usually taught. In Poland there is a very specific need concerning that: during most of the prehistory, since Bronze Age just up to Middle Ages the dominant funerary rite is cremation, so bioarchaeologists work with cremated remains on regular basis. So I'm teaching the methods I learnt and developed to students of archaeology. For some years I am cooperating with Odyssey Fieldschool (bioarch / forensic anthropology fieldschool in Cyprus), and students I've met there were really interested in learning more about cremains. That's how the idea of teaching it as open course came to be.
The course syllabus

The Cremains workshop is an advanced course, so the prior knowledge of human osteology is a must. Participants are expected to be able to work with fragmentary remains, please consider that cremains consist mostly of fragments under 1 cm, and you will be expected to recognize at least some of them.
Course topics:

1. Introduction to cremation
2. Cremains in archeology and forensic sciences
3. Exploration and documentation of cremated burials
4. Transportation and storage of cremains
5. Osteological analysis of cremains:
▼ fragmentation of cremains
▼ identification of non-human/non-bone elements
▼ establishing MNI
▼ describing biological profile
6. Process of cremation
7. Advanced analysis of cremains


The course covers several aspects of cremains analysis. There is a part describing the forensic-related problems, like what happens during cremation/burning of the human body, and what are the differences between fire victims and funeral cremation. The differences between the modern cremation and cremation on the funerary pyre will also be discussed. Then there will be bioarchaeological point of view - the exploration of the cremation grave on site, and laboratory (micro-) excavation. We have some urned cremated burials stored and prepared for the practical part of the workshop. And then most of the course will be concerning the analysis of the cremains (based on McKinley's method, with some changes of course). We will explain why we do the analysis this way, and what data can be gathered when this method is implemented. The explaination of main differences between cremains analysis and typical analysis of skeletal remains will be provided, and why the expectation of cremains carrying similar information that skeleton does is unrealistic. The possibile additional laboratory analyses on the cremated remains (like radiocarbon dating, isotopic analysis etc.) will also be discussed.
As to the course itself, it is prepared to last two weeks, with mornings spent on the lectures and in afternoons the lab work is planned. To be able to provide individual training for all participants, during the lab the supervisor will be joined by our PhD students, who work with cremains on daily basis. The lab will cover micro-excavation technique and then most of it will be spent on the analysis of cremated remains (starting with selected burials, so-called training collection, but then moving to actual archaeological samples sent to us for analysis). All cremated burials come from Polish archaeological sites, they are usually dated from the late Roman period/Migration period, though we have also some early medieval samples. The basic information on writing the report on cremains analysis will also be presented.
If students require credits for the course the grade will combine the lab work evaluation and exam on the theoretical part of the workshop will have to be passed.


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