Sunday, March 6, 2016

Part 1: British Mummification (Parker-Pearson)

I'll touch briefly since it's a pay-per-view.  I may get a hold of this and update later in the week.  It's in a French publication.

"Du cadavre au squelette : gérer les morts dans la Préhistoire"

From the time of the Bell Beakers to the end of the Late Bronze Age, a picture is developing that people in Britain (maybe other places?) performed some kind of mummification on the dead.  Aside from preservation of the body, the creation of special Frankenstein individuals (a new individual whose mummified body parts are sewn together from other individuals) shows that the preparation of the body in normal circumstances could have been more intrusive than simply desiccating, smoking or chemically preserving a body.  In other words, its possible that the internal organs could have been prepared as well.  (That's my hunch, perhaps something similar to Scythian burial)

This is also odd because Britain is a very damp, moldy place.  There should be an expectation that anything would rot quickly, so it's a little difficult to understand the thought process of preserving someone in a hopeless environment for preservation.

When someone dies in the United States, the body is usually embalmed the next day or so.  The burial is typically 7-10 days later to allow the family to drive and fly in; almost never before this.  It may have taken a week to several to prepare the grave, allowing family and outlaws to come in, and to settle the estate.  That's all I can think of; interesting story that is developing...

Predynastic Egyptian "Ginger" (British Museum)

"Du cadavre au squelette : gérer les morts dans la Préhistoire"
"From Corpse to Skeleton: Dealing with the Dead in Prehistory"

Mike Parker-Pearson (2016)
Bulletins et mémoires de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris
ISSN: 0037-8984 (Print) 1777-5469 (Online)  [Link]


The shortcomings of the archaeological record raise many challenges for the interpretation of prehistoric funerary practices, particularly because the remains of most people in prehistory have left no trace at all. Throughout prehistory, most human remains were treated in ways that are archaeologically invisible. A brief review of the sequence of funerary practices in British prehistory reveals major gaps and deficiencies in the burial record. It may well be that the normative rites for much of British prehistory were those that left little or no archaeological trace, such as excarnation through exposure of corpses or scattering of cremated ashes.
One form of mortuary practice only recently demonstrated for British prehistory is that of mummification. Scientific analysis of Late Bronze Age skeletons from Cladh Hallan, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, has revealed that they were not only composites of multiple individuals but were also mummified prior to burial. In particular, histological analysis of bioerosion in the bone microstructure reveals that putrefaction was arrested soon after death. This method of histological analysis has been applied to a large sample of prehistoric and historical human remains, and reveals that patterns of arrested decay are particularly a feature of the British Bronze Age from the Bell Beaker period onwards.


  1. "composites of multiple individuals mummified before burial".

    Okay, I'm used to prehistory being weird, but that is the most bizarre mortuary ritual I have ever heard of. I mean eating your deceased loved one's brain, or smashing their bones with a hammer and feeding them to vultures, or coating their skull with plaster and keeping it on your shelf, okay, that all has a certain logic to it but, as the kids these days say, what is this I can't even.

  2. I have a link to the article