Integrating histology in the analysis of multispecies cremations: A case study from early medieval England

Katherine Mc Cullough French, Christian Crowder, Pam Jean Crabtree

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Methodological options for differentiating commingled human from nonhuman calcined remains are limited. A zooarchaeological analysis of human cremations from three early medieval sites in the Avon Valley (Warwickshire, England) identified commingled animal remains in burials from the site of Bidford-on-Avon, but not at the contemporary sites of Wasperton and Alveston Manor. A histological study was conducted to further investigate whether additional fragments of nonhuman bone could be identified and to quantify potential differences in preservation or cremation intensity between the sites. Bone fragments (n = 92) were selected from 44 cremation burials across the three sites for thin section preparation. Histological cross sections were observed to record the presence of fibrolamellar plexiform bone and secondary osteon banding, as well as to categorize the histological preservation and cremation intensity. The analysis did not identify any nonhuman remains from Wasperton or Alveston Manor, but nonhuman bone fragments were identified in the Bidford-on-Avon histology sample. These data supplement and support the findings of the macroscopic analysis that multispecies commingled cremations were only prevalent at Bidford-on-Avon. No statistically significant differences were identified in histological preservation or cremation intensity between the cemeteries. Variability in animal use in funerary rites between cemetery sites, rather than preservation bias, is therefore the likely explanation for the differential recovery of commingled nonhuman bone from excavated cremation burials. These results confirm that histomorphology is a useful tool to incorporate in the analysis of multispecies commingled cremations.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1253-1263
    Number of pages11
    JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
    Issue number6
    StatePublished - Nov 1 2022


    • bone histology
    • cremations
    • histomorphology
    • medieval archaeology
    • mortuary archaeology

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Archaeology
    • Anthropology
    • Archaeology


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