The Process of Discovery: Preparing Llandeilo’s Bronze Age Cremations for Analysis

Rubicon have a team constantly working on archaeological processing. We have a facility which includes flotation tanks, drying rooms, sorting and storage areas that allows us to tackle numerous types of samples. Currently they are working their way through samples taken from prehistoric cremation burials excavated at Lovelodge Farm in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, a site we examined in partnership with our associates AB Heritage Ltd.

The Bronze Age features under excavation at Love Lodge Fields, Carmarthenshire (Rubicon Heritage)

The Bronze Age features under excavation at Lovelodge Farm, Carmarthenshire (Taken by AeroPerspective for Rubicon Heritage & AB Heritage)

The majority of the features excavated at Lovelodge Farm are likely to date to the Bronze Age (c. 2000- 700 BC). A Bronze Age Barrow cemetery, consisting of 5 ring-ditches were identified. These ring-ditches are the remains of burial monuments which would have included mounds of earth in the interior. Cremated human remains would have been inserted in pits in the ring-ditch and the mound itself. The mounds have been destroyed over the years but we did find cremated human remains in a number of pits in the ditches themselves and in the interior spaces. We don’t yet know if all the Barrows were created together or were gradually added by successive generations. A range of prehistoric pottery and flint and other stone artefacts were found in and around these features. Also in the vicinity of the barrows were numerous pits, some of which may be forming other ritual monuments known as pit-circles. Two flat cremation cemeteries were also found. These are clusters of unenclosed pits which have been filled with cremated human remains. We have at least 20 human burials from these two cemeteries, as well as an unusual pottery base decorated with an applied cross shaped decoration.

Another view of one of the Welsh barrows under excavation (Rubicon Heritage)

A view of a possible prehistoric house structure under excavation at Lovelodge Farm (Taken by AeroPerspective for Rubicon Heritage & AB Heritage)

Human remains, both cremated and unburnt, require processing to prepare them for specialist analysis. Our osteoarchaeologist, Carmelita Troy, advises on the processing of all human remains and ensures careful and respectful treatment throughout. Cremations are treated as flotation samples- first a flotation is taken; then the heavier elements of the cremation that did not float- known as the retent- are washed through a sieve bank. After they have been dried and sorted the cremated remains are subjected to specialist analysis. As Rubicon Heritage and AB Heritage have now entered post-excavation on Lovelodge Farm, this is the process that is currently underway for the remains recovered there.

Processing Cremation burials (Rubicon Heritage)

Processing Cremation burials (Rubicon Heritage)

Osteological analysis of the Lovelodge Farm cremation burials will include the recording of bone weight present, estimations of mean fragment size, analysis of bone colours (to aid estimation of cremation firing temperatures), assessment of the minimum numbers of individuals in each burial and, where possible, a determination of age and sex. Attempts will also be made to diagnose any pathological changes encountered, and ultimately an osteological report will present the analysed quantitative data and its interpretation. This will include a discussion of funerary practices, for example facets of pyre technology such as firing temperatures or evenness of burning of the remains, or other aspects such as the amount of bone that was collected from the pyre for deposition. Comparative data from other sites are also discussed in the report, in order to put the results into context. At the end of this process, which began with the initial discovery of the cremations at Lovelodge, we will be in a position to significantly increase our understanding of prehistoric peoples and their burial rituals around Bronze Age Llandeilo.

A reconstruction of how bodies were cremated in the Prehistoric period (Rubicon Heritage)

A reconstruction of how bodies were cremated in the Prehistoric period, produced for a cremation site excavated in Ireland (Rubicon Heritage)

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