Co-authored with Katy Meyers Emery, I have a new publication out in the Archaeological Journal. Indeed, it is my first-ever time of publishing in the journal I used to edit! I’m delighted to get it out in the public realm and see what people make of it.
The paper stems from dialogue between Katy – who completed her doctoral thesis at Michigan State looking at early Anglo-Saxon mortuary practice – and myself regarding the below-, on-, and above-ground display and storage of the cremated dead within timber mortuary houses in early Anglo-Saxon England. The best evidence comes from the West Sussex cemetery of Apple Down, but there are a range of other cemeteries from southern and eastern England that have produced evidence of four-post structures that might have been connected with post-cremation stages in mortuary practice.
We present a survey and appraisal of the potential significance of these structures, building on the work of (among others) Vera Evison, Martin Welch, Nick Stoodley and Chris Fern. It is a tricky subject, since we cannot know from their foundations what these structures looked like, how durable they were and precisely how they were used. Yet we propose that these structures are an important component of early Anglo-Saxon mortuary practice and a third option for disposing of the dead deployed alongside inhumation burial and cremation burial. Here’s the abstract:
This article presents a fresh interpretation of square and rectangular mortuary structures found in association with deposits of cremated material and cremation burials in a range of early Anglo-Saxon (fifth-/sixth-century AD) cemeteries across southern and eastern England. Responding to a recent argument that they could be traces of pyre structures, a range of ethnographic analogies are drawn upon, and the full-range of archaeological evidence is synthesized, to re-affirm and extend their interpretation as unburned mortuary structures. Three interleaving significances are proposed: (i) demarcating the burial place of specific individuals or groups from the rest of the cemetery population, (ii) operating as ‘columbaria’ for the above-ground storage of the cremated dead (i.e. not just to demarcate cremation burials), and (iii) providing key nodes of commemoration between funerals as the structures were built, used, repaired and eventually decayed within cemeteries. The article proposes that timber ‘mortuary houses’ reveal that groups in early Anglo-Saxon England perceived their cemeteries in relation to contemporary settlement architectures, with some groups constructing and maintaining miniaturized canopied buildings to store and display the cremated remains of the dead.
Meyers Emery, K. and Williams, H. 2017. A place to rest your (burnt) bones? Mortuary houses in early Anglo-Saxon England, Archaeological Journal 175. DOI: 10.1080/00665983.2017.1366704