Cremation as a new way of dealing with the dead resulted in large cemeteries with several hundred urn burials in the Late Bronze Age (c. 1300–800 BC). In recent years, scientific advances in osteological sexing, strontium isotope analysis and radiocarbon dating have enhanced the information value that can be extracted from cremated bones.

This presentation will discuss preliminary results of the research project “Unlocking the secrets of cremated human remains from Late Bronze Age Austria” (PI: Katharina Rebay-Salisbury) based on the burial sites Franzhausen-Kokoron and Inzersdorf from the Lower Austrian Traisen valley, which contains 403 burials that came to light through rescue excavations in the late 20th century. Furthermore, this presentation will provide details on how to extract the most information from undisturbed urn burials based on a case study of two urns from St. Pölten (Lower Austria) using an interdisciplinary approach of archaeology, osteology, radiology, and archaeobotany. Methods include strontium isotope analysis of human remains and comparative environmental samples to identify local and non-local individuals, osteological age and sex assessment of cremated human remains, tooth cementum annulation analysis to support age assessment as well as gender, age and status analysis based on grave goods to understand how identity categories intersect with aspects of mobility.

The data obtained in this project will significantly advance our knowledge of ritual practices, gendered mobility and social relations during the Late Bronze Age in Lower Austria as well as develop a bundle of much-needed methods to unlock the secrets of cremated human remains.

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