Bronze Age Britons made keepsakes from parts of dead relatives, archaeologists say

Pieces of bone were turned into ornaments, and may have been placed on display

Bronze age Britons remembered the dead by keeping and curating bits of their bodies, and even turning them into instruments and ornaments, according to new research on the remains.

Archaeologists found that pieces of bone buried with the dead were often from people who had died decades earlier, suggesting their remains had been kept for future generations, as keepsakes or perhaps for home display.

“This is the first evidence we have for an established bronze age tradition of curating human remains for substantial lengths of time, over several generations,” said Thomas Booth, who carbon-dated the remains at the University of Bristol.

“It’s indicative of a broader mindset where the line between the living and the dead was more blurred than it is today,” he said. “There wasn’t a mindset that human remains go in the ground and you forget about them. They were always present among the living.”

While the practice might seem macabre by modern standards, Booth points out that the retention of bits of friends and relatives lives on in the tradition of keeping an urn of a loved one’s ashes on the mantlepiece. In the bronze age, remains might have been kept in families or passed around the community, depending on who they came from. [ … ]

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