The Osteology of Decapitation Burials From Roman Britain

A post-mortem burial rite?

Authored by: Katie Tucker

The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  December  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415842198
eBook ISBN: 9781315883366
Adobe ISBN: 9781134677979


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Decapitation burial, in which the cranium, mandible and some cervical vertebrae are displaced from their correct anatomical position and replaced elsewhere in the grave, is a relatively common minority rite in Romano-British inhumation cemeteries (Figure 12.1). One previous synthesis of the practice identified more than 70 cemetery sites where such burials were found (Philpott 1991: 305–9) while an earlier publication recorded at least 144 separate decapitation burials from 49 sites (Harman et al. 1981: 166). Adult males and females were roughly equally represented, and there were a disproportionately small number of non-adult decapitated burials (Harman et al. 1981: 170–88; Philpott 1991: tabs A24–6). The displaced crania, mandibulae and cervical vertebrae were most commonly recorded as being placed by the lower part ofthe body, although other positions, such as on the pelvis, were also recorded (Harman et al. 1981: 165; Philpott 1991: 80).

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