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Histotaphonomic analysis of bone bioerosion reveals a regional framework of diverse deathways in the Neolithic of Southeast Italy.

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Booth, Thomas J 
Soncin, Silvia 
Rajkovaca, Tonko 


The wide diversity of Neolithic funerary practices is increasingly recognised. In Southeast Italy, recent studies have drawn attention to the co-existence of multiple ways of treating the dead within single sites and across the region. In this study, we address how such diverse deathways form a regional framework of ritual practice through histotaphonomic analysis of bone bioerosion. Samples were obtained from articulated, semi-articulated and disarticulated remains from four sites in Apulia which each presented different modes of treatment and disposal of the dead. Bone thin sections were analysed by light microscopy to characterise microstructural preservation through features including bacterial bioerosion, staining, inclusions, and Wedl tunnelling. We investigate the early post-mortem histories of individuals whose remains ended up in various states of dis/articulation and diverse depositional contexts. Disarticulated remains frequently displayed arrested or extensive bacterial bioerosion, which was also found in articulated and semi-articulated skeletons. Additionally, remains deposited in similar contexts, as well as articulated and disarticulated remains deposited together in the same context, often showed different histotaphonomic characteristics, suggesting diverse early post-mortem trajectories. As a result, we argue that Neolithic deathways in southeastern Italy incorporated a high level of diversity in the early post-mortem treatment of the body. A framework for funerary practices emerges, whereby disarticulated remains probably originated from bodies which had been buried previously and subjected to varying extents of shelter, exposure to invertebrates, and duration of burial. However, we acknowledge the ongoing research into the origins of bacterial bioerosion and the problem of equifinality, which leaves open the possibility for further scenarios of early post-mortem treatment.



Italy, Humans, Bone and Bones, Archaeology, History, Ancient, Body Remains

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PLoS One

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Public Library of Science (PLoS)
European Commission Horizon 2020 (H2020) ERC (885137)