From diagenesis to cremation: The application of FTIR to investigate post-mortem alteration of burnt bones

Stamataki, E. (Speaker), Salesse, K. (Contributor), Ioannis Kontopoulos (Contributor), McMillan, R. (Contributor), Veselka, B. (Contributor), Charlotte Sabaux (Contributor), Annaert, H. (Contributor), Mathieu Boudin (Contributor), Giacomo Capuzzo (Contributor), Dalle, S. (Contributor), Hlad, M. (Contributor), Amanda Sengelov (Contributor), Eugène Warmenbol (Contributor), Guy De Mulder (Contributor), Martine Vercauteren (Contributor), Snoeck, C. (Contributor)

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a conference


Over the last two decades, Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) has been extensively used to investigate bone diagenesis. However, post-mortem altera-tion caused by cremation has received much less attention, even though burnt human bones are frequently found in the archaeological record. Due to high combustion tem-peratures (<1000°C), the organic components of bone tissues (as well as water) are lost during cremation. Further, the burning process causes significant structural and chemical changes of the inorganic fraction of bone (bone apatite). These changes, along with post-burial diagenetic alteration, make interpreting spectroscopic data ob-tained from burnt human bone extremely challenging. In this study, we used FTIR in Attenuated Total Reflectance Mode (ATR) to in-vestigate how structural and chemical changes in cremated bones relate to, and/or are influenced by, different burning conditions. We examine both experimentally burnt an-imal bones and burnt human bones from various archaeological contexts from across Belgium. Burned bone specimens from four archaeological sites distributed in two cultur-ally distinct river basins and dating from Middle Bronze Age to Early Iron Age (1500-450 BCE) were selected (207 samples). In addition, a series of laboratory and outdoor burning experiments were performed on the bodies of domestic pigs (Sus scrofa; 87 samples). These were systematically conducted under various burning conditions to create calibration and reference samples useful for archaeological interpretations. Our results show that by using a specific set of infrared indices (IRSF, C/C, C/P, OH/P, CN/P, and Am/P) it is possible to investigate the circumstances under which cremations occurred (e.g., temperature, duration, fuel, pyre size, pyre location, the position of the body on the pyre, etc.). The combination of archaeological and experi-mental data opens up the possibility to investigate the changes in cremation practices through the study of structural and chemical changes of bone apatite.
Period24 Sep 2021
Event title9th International Bone Diagenesis Conference
Event typeConference
Conference number9
LocationEvora, Portugal
Degree of RecognitionInternational