ArticlePDF Available

The CRUMBEL project takes a closer look at the human cremated bone collections from Belgium

Authors:
  • Flemish Heritage Agency

Figures

Content may be subject to copyright.
Anthropologica et Præhistorica, 127/2016 (2019) : 111-114
Chronique / Kroniek
The CRUMBEL project takes a closer look at
the human cremated bone collections from Belgium
Cremated human remains are regularly
encountered in archaeological contexts. However,
they have been seldom studied with care due to
the lack of apparent value and their high level
of fragmentation. Indeed, during cremation,
temperatures can reach up to 1000°C destroying
all organic matter (skin, flesh, etc.) and leaving
behind only the inorganic fraction (i.e. bioapatite)
of bone and teeth. Contrarily to common beliefs,
the cremated skeletal elements do not turn to
“ashesbut, conversely, tend to become whiter,
more friable, and change their properties (e.g.
higher crystallinity).
Due to the difficulty to work with
cremated human remains, these have often been
put aside. However, thanks to recent analytical
developments and improvements of osteological
and geochemical techniques, it is now possible to
extract much more information from these remains
than one originally thought. It is indeed possible
to obtain radiocarbon dates (Lanting et al.,
2001), as well as information about the mobility
and geographical origin of cremated individuals
(Har vig et al., 2014; Sno e ck et al., 2015) and the
way in which their bodies were burned (Sno eck
et al., 2014, 2016). More and more efforts are also
put into developing methods to estimate the sex
and age-at-death of cremated individuals from
their skeletal remains (cav a z z u t i et al., 2019),
although much more work is still needed.
The study of cremated bone is of particular
interest for times and places where it was one
of the dominant burial rituals. In Belgium, for
example, cremation was practiced from the late
Neolithic to the Early Medieval Period, covering
more than 3000 years of Belgian history. The
lack of studies focusing on these remains means
that many aspects of the lives of those living in
Belgium during these periods remain unknown.
Crucially, in the sandy soils of Flanders, very
few unburned human remains were found due
to the acidity of the soils. Still, cremated bone
survives such conditions due to its more crys-
talline structure and offers the opportunity to
study directly the human remains of those living
on those sandy soils.
The Excellence of Science (EoS) project
CRUMBEL – CRem ation U rns and Mobilit y: popu -
lation dynamics in BELgium joins researchers
from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), the
Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Ghent
University and the Royal Institute for Cultural
Heritage (KIK-IRPA). It aims to bring back to life
these forgotten collections of cremated bone by
applying novel methodologies and developing
additional ones. The focus will be on osteoar-
chaeological and geochemical methods as well
as experimental work (Fig. 1). Determining age-
at-death and sex of cremated individuals remains
challenging, especially when the fragmentation
state is very high, and requires further investiga-
tion. Additionally, better understanding what
happens during cremation itself is of crucial
importance to assess changes in funerary prac-
tices through time and space. To this end, experi-
mental cremations will be combined with isotopic
and elemental analyses, as well as spectroscopic
and x-ray techniques.
Established methods of radiocarbon dating
and strontium isotope analyses of cremated bone
will be widely applied on samples from several
hundred sites (DaLLe et al., 2019; Fig. 2) to refine
the Belgian chronology and assess population
dynamics through time in Belgium. The latter also
requires the establishment of a national baseline
of the biologically available strontium based on
modern plants, which will be of use, not only to
this project but to any project looking into animal
Chronique / Kroniek
112
and human mobility. Combined with the osteo-
logical data, the radiocarbon dates and strontium
isotope ratios will allow to evaluate demographic
and cultural changes and how these are linked to
one another in Belgium from the Neolithic to the
Early Middle ages.
Fig. 1 – Experimental cremation pyre reconstruction to better understand funerary practices.
The 4-year CRUMBEL project (2018-
2021), spanning across three millennia and
covering more than 30,000 km2 will, without a
doubt, lay the foundations for future research
looking into archaeological population dynamics
at a national and international scale.
Chronique / Kroniek 113
Bibliography
cav a z z u t i c., Bre S a Do L a B., D’in n o cen zo c.,
in te r L a nD o S. & SperD u t i A., 2019. Towards
a new osteometric method for sexing ancient
cremated human remains. Analysis of Late
Bronze Age and Iron Age samples from Italy
with gendered grave goods. PloS one, 14 (1):
e0209423.
DaLLe S., SaBa u x c., ca p u z z o g., t y S D., Sn o e ck
c., vercaut er en M., Wa r M e n Bo L e., BouDin
M., anna e r t r., Sta M a ta k i e., kon t o p o uLo S
i., veS eL k a B., Seng eL øv a., HLa D M., SaLe SSe
k. & De MuL D er G., 2019. Preliminar y results in
the collecting of protohistoric cremation samples
for the CRUMBEL project. Lunula. Archaeologia
protohistorica, 27: 9–14.
Harv ig L., Frei k. M., price t. D. & Ly n n eru p
Fig. 2 – Map of selected sites for the CRUMBEL project.
N., 2014. Strontium isotope signals in cremated
petrous portions as indicator for childhood
origin. PloS ONE, 9 (7): e101603.
Lanti n g J. n., aert S-BiJ M a a. t. & v a n De r pLic H t
J., 2001. Dating of cremated bones. Radiocarbon,
43 (2A): 249–254.
Snoe c k c . , Sc Hu L t i n g r . J . , Lee -tH o r p J. a., LeB o n
M. & za z z o A,. 2016. Impact of heating condi-
tions on the carbon and oxygen isotope compo-
sition of calcined bone. Journal of Archaeological
Science, 65: 32–43.
Snoe c k c., Sc H u Lt i n g r .J., Lee-t H o rp J. a., De
Jong J., DeBo u g e W. & Mat t ieLLi N., 2015.
Calcined bone provides a reliable substrate for
strontium isotope ratios as shown by an enrich-
ment experiment. Rapid Communications in Mass
Spectrometry, 29: 107114.
Chronique / Kroniek
114
Snoe c k c., Lee-tHor p J. a. & ScH uLt i n g r. J., 2014.
From bone to ash: Compositional and structural
studies of burned bone. Palaeogeography, Palaeo-
climatology, Palaeoecology, 416: 55–68.
Authors’ addresses:
Christophe Snoeck
Maritime Cultures Research Institute
Department of Art Sciences & Archaeology
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
2, Pleinlaan
1050 Brussels, Belgium
Christophe.Snoeck@vub.be
Kevin SaL eSS e
Research Unit: Anthropology
and Human Genetics
Department of Biology of
Organisms and Ecology
Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)
CP 192
50, avenue F. D. Roosevelt
1050 Brussels, Belgium
Kevin.Salesse@ulb.be
Rica annaert
Marta HL a D
Ioannis ko n to p o u L oS
Elisavet Sta M a ta k i
Barbara veSeL k a
Dries ty S
Maritime Cultures Research Institute
Department of Art Sciences & Archaeology
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
2, Pleinlaan
1050 Brussels, Belgium
Henrica.Annaert@vub.be
Marta.Hlad@vub.be
Ioannis.Kontopoulos@vub.be
Elisavet.Stamataki@vub.be
barbaraveselka@gmail.com
Dries.Tys@vub.be
Mathieu BouDin
Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage
Jubelpark, 1
1000 Brussels, Belgium
Mathieu.Boudin@kikirpa.be
giaco M o ca p uz zo
Amanda SengeLøv
Martine vercau teren
Research Unit: Anthropology
and Human Genetics
Department of Biology of
Organisms and Ecology
Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)
CP 192
avenue F. D. Roosevelt, 50
1050 Brussels, Belgium
Martine.Vercauteren@ulb.ac.be
Giacomo.Capuzzo@ulb.ac.be
Amanda.Sengelov@ulb.ac.be
Martine.Vercauteren@ulb.ac.be
Sarah DaLL e
Guy De MuLDe r
Charlotte SaBau
Department of Archaeology
Ghent University
Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat, 35
9000 Ghent, Belgium
Sarah.Dalle@ugent.be
Guy.DeMulder@ugent.be
Charlotte.Sabaux@ugent.be
Eugène Wa r M e nB o L
Centre de Recherches en
Archéologie et Patrimoine
Department of History
Arts, and Archaeology
Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)
CP 133
avenue F. D. Roosevelt, 50
1050 Brussels, Belgium
Eugene.Warmenbol@ulb.ac.be
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
RATIONALEStrontium isotopes (87Sr/86Sr) are used in archaeological and forensic science as markers of residence or mobility because they reflect the local geological substrate. Currently, tooth enamel is considered to be the most reliable tissue, but it rarely survives heating so that in cremations only calcined bone fragments survive. We set out to test the proposition that calcined bone might prove resistant to diagenesis, given its relatively high crystallinity, as the ability to measure in vivo 87Sr/86Sr from calcined bone would greatly extend application to places and periods in which cremation was the dominant mortuary practice, or where unburned bone and enamel do not survive.METHODS Tooth enamel and calcined bone samples were exposed to a 87Sr-spiked solution for up to 1 year. Samples were removed after various intervals, and attempts were made to remove the contamination using acetic acid washes and ultrasonication. 87Sr/86Sr was measured before and after pre-treatment on a Nu Plasma multi-collector induced coupled plasma mass spectrometer using NBS987 as a standard.RESULTSThe strontium isotopic ratios of all samples immersed in the spiked solution were strongly modified showing that significant amounts of strontium had been adsorbed or incorporated. After pre-treatment the enamel samples still contained significant amounts of 87Sr-enriched contamination while the calcined bone fragments did not.CONCLUSIONS The results of the artificial enrichment experiment demonstrate that calcined bone is more resistant to post-mortem exchange than tooth enamel, and that in vivo strontium isotopic ratios are retained in calcined bone. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
From bone to ash: Compositional and structural studies of burned bone
  • Snoeck C
  • J A Lee-Thorp
  • J Schulting R
Snoeck c., Lee-tHorp J. a. & ScHuLting r. J., 2014. From bone to ash: Compositional and structural studies of burned bone. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 416: 55-68.