A Song of Bone and Fire – A Clash of Worlds

Project Details


From the rise of agriculture to the Roman era, cremation was one of the main burial practices in Northern Europe, including Belgium. Due to the high temperatures reached during cremation it was believed that all chronological and biological information present in bone was destroyed. Recent work demonstrated that this is not the case and that cremated bone can be radiocarbon dated and used to look at mobility and migration of populations, landscape use and funerary practices in the past. This project proposes to take the study of cremated bone from archaeological contexts a step further by developing new analytical tools.

These new developments focus on calcium, copper and zinc isotope systems to investigate the possibility to extract dietary information from cremated bone. A major challenge is to set up an extraction procedure allowing to isolate two or more elements for isotope analyses from a single aliquot of sample to limit the damage done to precious archaeological human remains. A combined infrared and X-Ray fluorescence 2D-mapping method will also be developed to observe spatial variations in structure and elemental composition of cremated bone. These methods will be applied to cremated bone but will also be directly applicable to palaeontological samples, including the Belgian Bernissart Iguanodons. The results will also have applications in modern ecology and environmental pollution as well as forensic science where investigators are often faced with fire victims.
Effective start/end date1/10/1730/09/20

Flemish discipline codes

  • Medical biochemistry and metabolism not elsewhere classified


  • cremated bone
  • chemics