Counting beyond ashes: Identifying the possible presence of up to six people in an urn through strontium isotope analysis

Activiteit: Talk or presentation at a conference


Cremations represent complex social processes where, sometimes, the remains of several individuals may end up in the same urn, either intentionally or accidentally. In grave 11 of Court-Saint-Étienne, a Late Bronze Age – Early Iron Age cremation site in the region of Belgium, osteoarchaeological research identified the remains of at least three individuals. However, osteoarchaeological analyses alone are insufficient to accurately estimate the Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) in a grave. To better identify the number of people, present in a cremation deposit, strontium isotope analysis emerges as a valuable complementary method, as significantly varying 87Sr/86Sr are not only indicative of mobility but may also indicate the presence of different individuals.
This study demonstrates that sampling multiple skeletal elements, representing various life stages, can aid in reconstructing life histories and in providing additional insights into the MNI of a cremation deposit, using grave 11 as a case study. From this urn, 3 petrous parts, 2 teeth, 2 ribs and 7 diaphyseal fragments were sampled and subjected to strontium isotope analysis. The results reveal a range of possibilities, spanning from three individuals with significant mobility throughout their lives to the potential presence of up to six individuals. While definitive conclusions remain challenging, this study shows the value of using strontium isotope analysis and a multiskeletal sampling method in advancing our understanding of the complexity of cremation practices and the (un)intentional treatment of cremated remains.
Periode8 mei 2024
EvenementstitelCremation in Archaeology (CIA 2024)
LocatieLjubljana, Slovenia
Mate van erkenningInternational