Bioarchaeology of the Near East, 1:35-57 (2007)

The practice of cremation in the Roman-era cemetery at Kenchreai, Greece. The perspective from archeology and forensic science

Douglas H. Ubelaker* (1), Joseph L. Rife (2)

(1) Department of Anthropology; National Museum of Natural History, MRC 112
Smithsonian Institution; Washington, D.C. 20560;
email: (corresponding author)
(2) Classics Department; Macalester College
1600 Grand Avenue; St. Paul, MN 55105-1899

Abstract: Since 2002 the Kenchreai Cemetery Project has explored subterranean chamber tombs of Roman date in the main cemetery of the ancient port of Kenchreai, on the eastern coast of the Isthmus of Corinth, Greece. Analysis of the human remains recovered from three tombs has furnished evidence for cremation as well as inhumation. The cremated remains represent both adults and immature individuals. Forensic analysis indicates that the original event of cremation reached high temperatures over a long duration, and that only a fraction of the cremated remains were transferred to the tombs.

Ancient mortuary sites represent valuable repositories of information regarding not just the burial customs of past societies, but also biocultural information about the people represented and their attitudes toward life and death. Such information is augmented through a thoughtful bioarcheological approach in which knowledge gleaned from skeletal analysis is integrated with archeological interpretation following meticulous excavation. This report exemplifies this sort of analysis, focusing on the interpretation of cremated remains from chamber tombs of Roman date in the main cemetery at Kenchreai in southern Greece.

Key words: Greece; cremation; bone; Roman; Kenchreai

Received 23 April 2007; accepted 22 August 2007; published online 15 March 2008; corrected online 20 October 2008.

Cited by:
  1. Brown A.R. (2008), The city of Corinth and urbanism in Late Antique Greece, PhD thesis, University of California, Berkeley.
  2. Avioz M. (2009), The incineration of Saul's and his sons' corpses according to Josephus, Journal for the Study of the Pseudoepigrapha 18(4):285-292.
  3. Buikstra J., Lagia A. (2009), Bioarchaeological approaches to Aegean archaeology [in:] "New directions in the skeletal biology of Greece", L.A. Schepartz et al. (ed.), American School of Classical Studies at Athens: Princeton, pp. 2-29.
  4. Ubelaker D.H. (2009), The forensic evaluation of burned skeletal remains: A synthesis, Forensic Science International 183(1):1-5.
  5. Ubelaker D.H., Rife J.L. (2009), Skeletal analysis and mortuary practice in an Early Roman chamber tomb at Kenchreai, Greece, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 21(1):1-18.
  6. Hutchinson A. (2010), Erasing the evidence: The impact of fire on the metric and morphological characteristics of cut marks, MA thesis, California State University, Chico.
  7. Goncalves D., Thompson T.J.U., Cunha E. (2011), Implications of heat-induced changes in bone on the interpretation of funerary behaviour and practice, Journal of Archaeological Science [in print].

    Return to Volume 1:2007