9th Experimental Archaeology Conference abstract – Clarke and Inwood

Cremation in Irish Neolothic tombs copyright Clarke and Inwood

Creation and Cremation: Understanding ritual use of Neolithic material culture of the Irish passage tomb tradition in relation to the cremation process

Tara Clarke & Niall Inwood

University College Dublin

During the Irish Neolithic the primary form of burial practice is cremation. Associated with this practice from c.3300-2700 is the construction and primary use of passage tombs to serve as ritual centres. Many of the grave goods located within these monuments show evidence for fire; either in their construction or at some stage after. However, our experimental project has demonstrated a large variability in the extent to which different objects are affected within cremations, suggesting that this was a much more elaborate and controlled ritual process than
was previously considered.

This paper will primarily focus on the manufacture and destruction, in cremations, of fundamental elements of this Neolithic passage tomb culture; namely metapodial bone pins and “jasper” pendants. It will include a summary of our overall research and associated images from the joint experiment carried out by Tara Clarke and Niall Inwood as part of their Masters thesis. The purpose of this research was to understand possible manufacturing techniques evident on grave goods associated with the primary burial deposits of Neolithic passage tombs in Ireland. Post production processes were also tested, challenging assumed cremation treatment of such grave goods associated with the burial practice.

Following an introduction to the time period and associated archaeological record, the paper will lay out the primary aims and methodologies from the experimental process. The choice of materials selected and how they reflect the archaeological and environmental record will be put forward. The paper will discuss the methods and approaches taken for the manufacture of the reconstructions, supported by the archaeological record. We will argue for certain post-production treatments and how they may be reflected in archaeological material recovered from excavations. Finally through the data, the experiment shall show how this challenges preconceptions about Neolithic ritual practices in Ireland.

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