Published May 24, 2021 | Version v1
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  • 1. The Cyprus Institute


This document is the fourth in a series of guides aimed at promoting best practice in different aspects of archaeological
science, produced by members of the Science and Technology in Archaeology and Culture Research Center
(STARC) of The Cyprus Institute. The current document was largely developed in the context of two projects: People
in Motion and Promised. The implementation of People in Motion involved the laboratory study of a large commingled
and partially burned skeletal assemblage from Byzantine Amathus, Cyprus, which came to light in the context
of excavations led by the Cypriot Department of Antiquities. Osteological work on this assemblage was co-funded
by the European Regional Development Fund and the Republic of Cyprus through the Research and Innovation
Foundation (EXCELLENCE/1216/0023). In addition, Promised aims at promoting archaeological sciences in the
Eastern Mediterranean, with funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme
under grant agreement No 811068.

The study of burned skeletal remains is particularly challenging due to the extensive alteration of the bones, manifesting
as warping, discoloration, shrinkage, and fracturing. These macroscopic changes express underlying structural and
chemical alterations. As a result, the application of traditional osteological methods (morphological, metric, chemical,
molecular, histological and others) is largely inhibited or should be extremely cautious. Nonetheless, the study of
burned skeletal assemblages can offer unique insights to funerary practices and technologies, as well as the manipulation
of dead bodies. In line with the above, the aim of this guide is to cover various aspects of the study of burned
skeletal assemblages. It should be seen as a supplement to the ‘Basic guidelines for the excavation and study of human
skeletal remains; STARC Guide no. 1 ’ and the ‘Excavation and study of commingled human skeletal remains; STARC Guide
no. 2’. The current guide is meant to serve only as a general outline and the described field and lab-based methods
should be modified depending on the context and characteristics of each assemblage under study.

A number of excellent volumes have been published in the past years, compiling experimental and case studies on the
retrieval and examination of burned skeletal remains in archaeological and forensic contexts (Fairgrieve 2008; Schmidt
and Symes 2015; Symes et al. 2012; Thompson 2015). Much of the information presented here has been drawn from
these resources, as well as from other publications and the author’s professional experience. References are given
throughout the current document but the aim is by no means to provide an exhaustive account of the literature.

This document is an open resource and it is anticipated to be updated at regular intervals. I would greatly appreciate
any feedback and recommendations for future improvement



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Promised – Promoting Archaeological Science in the eastern Mediterranean 811068
European Commission