What Happened Here? Bone Histology as a Tool in Decoding the Postmortem Histories of Archaeological Bone from Castricum, The Netherlands

H.I. Hollund, M.J. Collins, H. Kars

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

It is generally a challenge to interpret incomplete and degraded skeletal assemblages found during archaeological excavations. Several events after the death of animals and humans, before and during burial, will have influenced the situation as seen upon excavation. This postmortem sequence of events can be called the taphonomic history of bones. Taphonomic signatures as detected using histology can provide additional data on deposition/burial and the evolution of the burial environment. This article reports on the results of a histological characterisation of diagenetic alterations in a bone assemblage from the Roman period burial and settlement site of Castricum, located in the province of Noord-Holland in the Netherlands. The aim is to assess the relationship between bone histology and known taphonomic events. Both transmitted light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy were used to investigate histological changes. In 1995, the excavation at Castricum uncovered the skeletal material of humans and a variety of animal species that had received different burial treatments. The humans, as well as some dogs and cattle, were buried as complete inhumations. The skeletal remains of horses provided evidence of surface exposure before deposition. In addition, both environmental changes (e.g. variations in groundwater levels) and disturbances by later human activity are known to have occurred since the internment of the bones. Together with the animal refuse bones from the site, this assemblage provides an excellent opportunity to investigate the relationship between early taphonomy, burial conditions and histological appearance. The complex taphonomic history of the Castricum skeletal material was found to be reflected in several characteristic alterations of the bone microstructure such as the extent of bioerosion, cracking, staining and inclusions of framboidal pyrite crystals. This allowed for the reconstruction of a postmortem sequence of events. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-548
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Issue number22
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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funeral
Netherlands
history
event
animal
The Netherlands
History
Histology
Decoding
Archaeological Bone
Burial
reconstruction
inclusion
death
evidence
Animals
Deposition
Assemblages
Taphonomic History
Alteration

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title = "What Happened Here? Bone Histology as a Tool in Decoding the Postmortem Histories of Archaeological Bone from Castricum, The Netherlands",
abstract = "It is generally a challenge to interpret incomplete and degraded skeletal assemblages found during archaeological excavations. Several events after the death of animals and humans, before and during burial, will have influenced the situation as seen upon excavation. This postmortem sequence of events can be called the taphonomic history of bones. Taphonomic signatures as detected using histology can provide additional data on deposition/burial and the evolution of the burial environment. This article reports on the results of a histological characterisation of diagenetic alterations in a bone assemblage from the Roman period burial and settlement site of Castricum, located in the province of Noord-Holland in the Netherlands. The aim is to assess the relationship between bone histology and known taphonomic events. Both transmitted light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy were used to investigate histological changes. In 1995, the excavation at Castricum uncovered the skeletal material of humans and a variety of animal species that had received different burial treatments. The humans, as well as some dogs and cattle, were buried as complete inhumations. The skeletal remains of horses provided evidence of surface exposure before deposition. In addition, both environmental changes (e.g. variations in groundwater levels) and disturbances by later human activity are known to have occurred since the internment of the bones. Together with the animal refuse bones from the site, this assemblage provides an excellent opportunity to investigate the relationship between early taphonomy, burial conditions and histological appearance. The complex taphonomic history of the Castricum skeletal material was found to be reflected in several characteristic alterations of the bone microstructure such as the extent of bioerosion, cracking, staining and inclusions of framboidal pyrite crystals. This allowed for the reconstruction of a postmortem sequence of events. {\circledC} 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.",
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What Happened Here? Bone Histology as a Tool in Decoding the Postmortem Histories of Archaeological Bone from Castricum, The Netherlands. / Hollund, H.I.; Collins, M.J.; Kars, H.

In: International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, No. 22, 2012, p. 537-548.

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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