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18 April 2015
Britain's oldest human cremation found in Essex

Archaeologists say a section of burnt bone, discovered during preparations for a new pipeline in Essex (England) and dated to the Mesolithic period, come from the oldest human cremation in Britain.
     A metre-round pit at Langford contained 118g of cremated bone, backfilled with charcoal in a burial believed to represent at least one adult from 5600 BCE. Two radiocarbon dates have been confirmed from the fragments, weighing less than a tenth of the weight expected from a complete individual. A further test was performed on ashes from the pyre.
     Only around 20 examples of burials from the British Mesolithic, between 10000 BC and 4000 BC, are known, none of which had been cremated. Three cremations from the period come from Ireland, with several discovered across Europe.
     "This deposit shows that people had the required understanding of fire and pyre technology to achieve the high temperature required for complete combustion of the corpse - probably greater than 600 degrees centigrade," says Nick Gilmour, who led the excavation for Oxford Archaeology. "It also hints at a belief system where the dead were sufficiently respected that they were not simply abandoned, as has been previously believed, and that time and resources were invested in funerary practices despite a mobile, hand-to-mouth existence," Gilmour added.
     Three struck flints, found in the same pit, included sharp blades fitting the technology of the period. A Bronze Age barrow was also unearthed during construction work.

Edited from Culture24 (15 April 2015)

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