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Archaeobotanical evidence and ethnobotanical interpretation of plants used as coffin pillow fillings in burials in Poland (17th-18/19th centuries)

Abstract

The aim of this article is the study of the botanical material in the fillings of 54 coffin pillows from Catholic and Protestant burials dated to the 17th-18/19th centuries, collected during the investigation of 15 church crypts in different regions of Poland, and consideration of the role of the plants used for this purpose. In a large part of the dataset, a comprehensive picture of the botanical composition of the pillow fills has been obtained through the parallel studies of plant macroremains and pollen. Advantages and pitfalls in the use of pollen analysis on these specific remains are discussed. The results show that a large number of taxa were used in pillow fillings. The choice of plants was mostly dictated by their aromatic, insect repellent and preservative properties as well as their symbolic meanings, but the morphology and other physical properties of plants used in the fillings was also of importance. In some cases, the use of plants from bouquets which had been blessed in specific Catholic church ceremonies is suggested. The possible season of burial according to the botanical composition of the pillows is discussed.

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Acknowledgements

Our thanks are due to Anna Drążkowska, Małgorzata Grupa, Sebastian Nowak, Sławomir Kulpa and Rafał Niedźwiadek for providing archaeological and historical information and to Mateusz Sosnowski for creating the map. We are grateful to Julian Wiethold and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on the manuscript and to Karl-Ernst Behre for his editing. This study has been supported by the University of Gdańsk (531-D040-D581-21) and Narodowe Centrum Nauki (National Science Centre Poland) (2016/23/B/HS3/01910).

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Badura, M., Jarosińska, M., Noryśkiewicz, A.M. et al. Archaeobotanical evidence and ethnobotanical interpretation of plants used as coffin pillow fillings in burials in Poland (17th-18/19th centuries). Veget Hist Archaeobot (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-022-00884-z

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Keywords

  • Aromatic and symbolic plants
  • Ethnobotany
  • Early modern burials
  • Funeral pillows
  • Plant macroremains
  • Pollen analysis