Work proceeds on the new archaeology book project: Cremation in the Early Middle Ages.
Co-edited by Femke Lippok (Leiden University) and Howard Williams (University of Chester), the book will draw together the latest research and thinking on early medieval cremation practices and aims to be of interest to students and scholars of medieval archaeology and history, but also global research in the archaeology, bioarchaeology and anthropology of mortuary practices, and death studies more broadly. It builds on a 2018 research workshop organised by Femke at Leiden University in December 2018 and is distinctive in that we are collating contributions via structured interviews.
Following on from our first interview with Rica Annaert exploring early medieval cremation practices in Flanders, we interviewed Dr Egge Knol on Frisian cremation practices of the Early Middle Ages. Our third and latest interview was with Dr Raimund Masanz of the Römisch-Germanisches Museum in Köln. Raimund had been one of the speakers at the 2018 Leiden workshop and we were pleased to incorporate his insights into the book.
During the interview, Raimund identified the challenge of identifying cremation burials which are under-represented in the archaeological record, especially if un-urned. For instance, cremation burials are often overlooked during excavations as they are shallow compared with inhumation graves. When and where they are identified, they often lack datable artefacts and only radiocarbon dating will sometimes identify those which might otherwise be presumed to be prehistoric or Roman-period in date.
Despite these difficulties, Raimund reviewed the evidence of a low frequency but definitive presence of cremation in early medieval southern Germany, including in Migration Period and row-grave cemeteries, as well as in one striking case within an ecclesiastical context.
Notably, Raimund explored alternative interpretative explanations for cremation as potentially localised family traditions rather than traditional religious and ethnic interpretations. This is supported by the co-existence of cremation and inhumation as contemporaneous burial deposits in the same graves, hinting at a close connection between the dead individuals and the survivors.
Cremation is thus recognised as an under-represented and under-theorised dimension of early medieval mortuary practice in southern Germany. Improved field methods and scientific analyses, as well as fresh perspectives, promise to reveal more insights about it in ongoing research.
Stay tuned for news on further developments with this project through the remainder of 2020 and into the New Year.