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Who gets buried with a bear? An examination of wild animals in early medieval cremation cemeteries of Eastern England

O'Regan, Hannah and SQUIRES, Kirsty (2021) Who gets buried with a bear? An examination of wild animals in early medieval cremation cemeteries of Eastern England. In: 27th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, 6th September 2021 - 11th September 2021, Virtual.

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Abstract or description

In early medieval England (5th – 7th centuries AD), cremation was one of the dominant mortuary rites. Cremation cemeteries span a large region in eastern England spanning from the East Riding of Yorkshire through to East Anglia. One of the most distinctive practices amongst cremation practicing groups was the provision of both domesticated and wild animal offerings at the funeral. Bear phalanges are found in a number of cremation burials in early medieval cemeteries in England. To date, of the cremation assemblages analysed, bear remains have been found at four sites; namely, Sancton, Elsham, Cleatham and Spong Hill. In this talk we examine the role of bear remains in the cremation rite. The association between the bear bones and the age and sex of the deceased, as well as relationships with pyre- and grave-goods will be explored on a site and inter-site level. We also examine the other wild animals that have been identified from cremation burials, such as fox and osprey, and discuss why these species were selected. Finally, we consider the origin of this burial rite, and the sources of the animals. Bears were probably extinct in England at this time, so this raises the question as to where the bones and/or pelts were being obtained from, and what this can tell us about identity and affiliation. This presentation aims to further our understanding of the provision of wild animals, particularly bears, in early medieval cremation burials.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bears, cremation, ceremony, cultural affiliation
Faculty: School of Law, Policing and Forensics > Forensic Sciences and Policing
Event Title: 27th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists
Event Location: Virtual
Event Dates: 6th September 2021 - 11th September 2021
Depositing User: Kirsty SQUIRES
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2021 14:12
Last Modified: 12 Apr 2023 10:02

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