In previous posts I’ve explored cremation memorials in gardens of remembrance, cemeteries and churchyards, as well as ash-scattering and memorials in the wider landscape such as beside footpaths and at beauty spots (including archaeological sites). What I haven’t given much attention to is how ashes are scattered by crematoria staff, whether in the presence of survivors or not. This is a further distinctive and varied dimension of gardens of remembrance. Scattering can take place over water, or on lawns. When the latter, there are sometimes attempts to strew in a cross-shape, or indeed, a symbolic tree or bush stemming from floral offerings.
The bones of the dead are the most natural symbol of death of all, and yet while attention has been afforded to the display of human remains as traces of individual past lives and collective memento mori, the versatility of ashes – curation, disposal and display – have received relatively limited archaeological attention. These humble examples shed light on the potential for a contemporary archaeology of cremation to explore such traces, considering the interaction of specialists, landscape architecture and the agency of survivors and the deceased, in the strewing of ashes over water and earth. Moreover, these contemporary ash-strewing practices reveal the potential treatments and significances of cremains in the human past beyond the grave. I would contend that the amorphous traces of ash, uniform, near-white, whether strewn in patches or circles, crosses or other patterns, constitute ‘ephemeral monuments’ that endure but slowly fade and disperse through the act of wind and rain, sometimes combined with floral offerings, cards and other ephemeralia.