Denis BOUQUIN1 / Jean Pol BEAUTHIER2
(1Service archéologie de Reims Métropole, ARTeHIS-univ. Bourgogne, France / 2LABO-Univ. libre de Bruxelles, Belgique)
Abstract: The story of Ibn Fadlan about the Viking’s funeral allows Mike Parker Pearson, in his Archaeology of death (1999), to demonstrate the important discrepancy between the way the funeral took place (reality ) and how the archaeologist would interpret the material remains if they would excavate the burial (i.e. how the archaeologist thinks the funerals took place).
One of the reasons explaining this discrepancy is that the archaeologist has only access to the final state of the funerary structure. So, he has to understand all the phenomena that led to the archaeological image in order to restitute the initial image of the burial that is how the dead body was treated. For example, in burial context, we have to answer some fundamental questions like: was he buried in a coffin? Was the clothing defunct? Is there artefact ? Where are they? How the human remains reached the situation in which they were discovered?….
The specific question of clothing presence in burial context is often answered positively, thanks to artefacts like brooch for example. But when artefacts are missing, it’s more difficult, and frequent osteological arguments only permit to suggest the presence of clothing with the defunct.
The gap in the determination of the presence of clothing is essentially linked to a misunderstanding of the effect of clothing on the rate of human decomposition, and so, on the final organization of bones (in both forensic and archaeological context). Some forensic experiments have been done in this direction (essentially in the United States) but neither synthesis nor potential archaeological applications have currently been produced.
So, our presentation has two main goals: first, try to bring some synthetic elements about the effect of clothing on the rate of decomposition (impact on entomological activity, evolution of putrefaction…) and secondly, try to apply those forensic arguments on archaeological examples according to a methodological and interpretative point of view (means to recognize clothing in burial context ; contribution of clothes in burial practices analysis…).
Keywords: forensic anthropology , burial archaeology , clothing