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Oak, ash and pine: the role of firewood in funerary rituals at the Roman site of Reza Vella (Ourense, Spain)

  • María Martín-Seijo
  • Mario César Vila
Original Paper
  • 83 Downloads

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to reflect on the role of firewood in Roman burial rites of cremation. The case study of Reza Vella (Ourense, Spain) provides valuable information about the uses and the role of plants in a funerary context in northwest Iberia. Archaeobotanical data from Roman cemeteries in this area are very scarce, but they provide valuable information on the funerary customs introduced by the Roman Empire to the provinces, and how this interaction could be reflected in the management of firewood. The structures related to cremation rites include primary and secondary contexts. Charcoal remains recovered inside the structures, of bustum type, are the remains of the fuel burned during the cremation of the corpses. In these primary contexts, the ubiquitous taxa were Quercus sp. deciduous, Fraxinus sp. and Pinus spp. Other taxa, such as Salix/Populus, Prunus sp. and Arbutus unedo, have also been identified in secondary burials. A combination of different factors probably determined their selection for cremation purposes, such as their availability in the environs of the necropolis, differential access to wood resources, their heat potential, technical aspects related to their exploitation and even conceptual aspects, such as their symbolic meaning.

Keywords

Firewood Charcoal analysis Roman cremation Northwest Iberia 

Notes

Acknowledgements

María Martín-Seijo was funded by a Post-Doc Grant Plan I2C mod. B with the project “MATERIAL-Materiality and Material Culture: Wood and Other Plant-based Materials in Archaeological Contexts.” The charcoal analysis was developed at the Laboratory of the Study Group for the Prehistory of NW Iberia-Archaeology, Antiquity and Territory (GEPN-AAT), and partially supported by P&A Arqueólogos S.L. (2011-CE274). The authors would like to thank the archaeological team, namely Guillermo Santamaría Gámez, and the promoters of the archaeological works—Adif and COPASA. We also thank Emilio Abad Vidal, Brais Currás Refojos, José María Eguileta Franco, Alfredo Seara Carballo and Cristina Vilas Boas Braga for their help. We are grateful to Clíodhna Ní Lionáin and Nick Dutfield for reviewing the English version of the text.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.GEPN-AAT Grupo de Estudos para a Prehistoria do NW Ibérico-Arqueoloxía, Antigüidade e Territorio (GI-1534), Dep. HistoriaUniversidade de Santiago de CompostelaSantiago de CompostelaSpain
  2. 2.HORIZONTENORTE—Arqueoloxía, Patrimonio, Historia e Enxeñaría Cultural, Arquitecto Domingo A. de AndradeSantiago de CompostelaSpain

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