February 23, 2013

Bronze Age cremation necropolis found in Romania

A large and informative necropolis dating to c. 1300 BCE has been found at Păru (Banat, Romania).
“Particularly important are the graves that shed new light on the funerary ritual at the end of the Bronze Age in north-eastern Banat. It was found that the dead were deposited on a pyre where items from the funerary trousseau were also burned.” This included “a table-altar of clay on which they brought funerary offerings, stone grinders and various pots that were used for the funeral banquet. Modern methods of radioactive carbon dating method shows that the necropolis at Păru dates between 1300 and 1200 BC” Ph.D. Florin Drasovean told  www.tion.ro.
“In terms of inventory, there were discovered pots that were used in the funeral banquet and various fragments of altars, on which the deceased was cremated. Subsequently, the funeral was done in circular pits of 1 meter diameter, grouped in nests, probably because individuals came from the same family,” explained Professor Drasovean.

Part of the excavated necropolis


This cremation funerary fashion is also found further West, where it is most strongly associated to the Urnfield culture (as well as others more or less related ones), later, in the Iron Age, cremation is also associated to stone circle burials in Scandinavia and the Pyrenees. Therefore one could fathom that the transition between the Bronze and Iron Age in Europe North and West of the Balcans could well be described also as the Age of Cremation, even if (of course), there are also many areas where such practice never caught up.


  1. Wikipedia says inhumation (without cremation) became more common in Europe during the Iron Age. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cremation#Ancient

    I haven't really found a good map or timeline showing these changes place-by-place in different periods.

  2. It would be generally correct but it depends where. I mentioned the two regional cases of cremation with burial in stone ring of Scandinavia and the Pyrenees, also Urnfield persisted in the Early Iron Age, at least in Iberia, even if Hallstatt influences also arrived to them, and in Catalonia even after Iberization (c. 550 BCE), Urnfield-derived cremation persisted (not sure if until Roman times). As the article says, it also persisted among the proto-Etruscans of Villanovan culture.

    However before the Balcanic precursors of this practice and the more influential Urnfield culture phenomenon, it was very rare. I only know of a few cases all of Danubian Neolithic context: earliest Lengyel (later burials) and a contemporary culture of Bohemia, South Poland, East Germany, Moravia, Bavaria and parts of Austria ("Cerámica Puntillada" in Spanish but not sure how it translates to English). Later it seems to vanish until the phenomenon resurfaces with Urnfield culture.

  3. I would be among those who argue that cremation is a useful (although imperfect) litmus test of Indo-European cultural affinity for archaeologists. The non-Indo-European Etruscans, who also cremated at a contemporaneous time in the early iron age would be the confounding data point which I would attribute to cultural borrowing for neighboring Indo-European populations.

    As I understand it, cremation appears in the Balkans around 2000 BCE or earlier, one of the earliest place to do so in the region and a likely source for the Mycenean Greeks and possibly other Indo-European populations. Wikipedia on the Urnfield culture reports: "The origins of the cremation rite are commonly believed to be the Balkans[.]" So, this find is right at the core of the territory where the practice originates. Cremation likewise coincides with the appearance of Myceneans in Greece. My recollection is that Christianization is an important factor in ending cremation as common practice in the Roman Empire (given theological lack of clarity over the doctrine of resurrection of the body in the end times).

    The spread of the practice of cremation in Anatolia likewise appears to coincide with Hittite expansion in the early second millenium BCE.

    In my view, the transition to cremation in the middle of the Nordic Bronze Age together with other cultural discontinuities between the early and late Nordic Bronze Age, probably captures archaeologically the moment at which the transition from non-Indo-European languages to early Germanic languages takes place. This fits on overall patter of a relatively late arrival of Indo-Europeans in territory that was once held by the Bell Beaker culture or cultures evolving in continuity from that culture.

    Cremation appears to be a good marker of the arrival of the Aryans in South Asia at Cemetery H, a transition that is particular notable because an early Rig Vedic passage makes reference to a shift from inhumation to cremation occuring during the lives of the audience for that passage.

    Absence of cremation, meanwhile, is one factor among many for inferring that the Bell Beaker culture was probably not Indo-European in cultural derivation, although one could argue (in my mind implausibly for other reasons) given their expansion from a focus in Portugal ca. 2900 BCE, that they were distant branches of the Indo-European tree who like the Tocharians broke off and became isolated before the rest of the Indo-European peoples adopted cremation at a pivotal historical moment.

    There is some reason to think that the practice of "sky burial" (i.e. leaving bodies to be eaten by scavanger birds in a protected high place) still practiced by Parsis in India, have a common doctrinal origin with cremation, with both practices avoiding inhumation. Sky burial could have evolved from cremation, for example, where local resources made funeral pyres impracticable.

    There is also a fairly close coincidence between the advent of cremation and more advanced metallurgy and pottery technologies that used hotter fires than older metallurgy practices in the entire Indo-European region. It is plausible (although perhaps impossible to ever definitively prove) that cremation is a theological counterpart seen as a way to purify the soul from the body to the use of high temperature fires to purify metals and create higher gloss ceramic products.

    This isn't to say that there weren't pre-cremation Indo-Europeans. But, the transition from Kurgan burial practices to cremation burial practices seems to be part of a larger major cultural transition among all Indo-Europeans (except the Tocharians who appear to have broken off from other Indo-Europeans before this transition took place and to have been too geographically distant from the rest of the Indo-European community to participate in this transition an adopt cremation practices).

    1. It is widely acknowledged that Urnfield culture (cremation) derives from Tumuli culture (kurgans or tumuli). It is therefore a cultural transition within a Kurgan-derived or IE culture. Even if burial practices are surely an important cultural identifier, it would wrong to focus only on that.

  4. I leave for reference purposes, a link to a good discussion of the subjet at Dienkes Anthropology blog about six months ago.

  5. Also on point, in a couple of months a new research anthology with by published entitled "The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial," which is edited by Sarah Tarlow and Liv Nilsson Stuz.

    One of the contributions on Upper Paleolithic burials is from my own neighborhood archaeologist, Julien Riel-Salvatore, who reports that "a pdf of the paper's uncorrected proofs [appears] on my Academia.edu profile at Upper Paleolithic mortuary practices in Eurasia: A critical look at the burial record." The proof includes many pages of nice summary tables and a well done simple map locating the burials within Europe.

  6. Well, I don't know why do you think that the discussion at Dienekes' is "good", because he imagines that cremation is done in order to transport the remains, when we know of no historical or anthropological such examples. Instead it would seem to me that cremation may be done for one main reason, whose nature is emotional/spiritual: avoiding the process of corpse-rotting, watching your loved ones body to disintegrate before your eyes as you bid the last farewell.

    On Salvatore's paper and article (quite interesting read both), thanks but I was already on track and I have just published an entry on it but avoiding any intervention on my side, just copy-pasting the introductory segment (with picture) and leading readers to his blog. I really do not believe I have much to add to what he says. In fact I was awaiting his own blog commentary because I was reading around some stuff that seemed a bit distorted.


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