- Funerary practices and archaeo-anthropology
- Taphonomic processes and biodegradation
- Altered decomposition rates
- Soft tissue and bone histology (histotaphonomy)
- Soil analysis, microbiology
- Analytical science in archaeology: SEM, Raman spectroscopy, FTIR, XRD, GC-MS
- Mass disasters and mass disaster management
CURRENT PROJECT: Revisiting funerary practices: A methodological approach to the study of funerary sequences and social organisation in the Neolithic Near East, integrating forensic experiments in archaeo-anthropology (ArchFarm)
This 3 Year Marie Curie Fellowship project from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (2019-2021) to Eline Schotsmans aims to expand the methodological principles of funerary archaeology and apply this novel approach to interpret Neolithic Near Eastern burials.
Funerary practices provide a valuable insight into social organisation and ideology of past societies. A major deficiency is that the archaeological record only shows the final deposition of human remains. Funerary practices are not often considered as a dynamic process that consists of several stages over a length of time. In addition, a confident interpretation of funerary treatment before deposition is currently very difficult due to the lack of experimental research. Certain methods are applied to provide interpretations of funerary treatments, but have never been verified. In addition, during archaeological excavations, the burial environment and human remains are too often studied separately. The study of both human remains and their depositional context should be integrated to enhance understanding and interpretation of funerary contexts and thus the behaviour of ancient populations (archaeothanatology). ArchFarm is an interdisciplinary project with a wider relevance and contemporary impact. It integrates forensic science, anthropology, archaeology, taphonomy, ethnology, histology, soil science, decay chemistry and entomology.
The University of Wollongong is the host institution for this Marie Curie Fellowship. The Centre of Archaeological Science (CAS) at UOW is the first archaeological department connected to a Body Farm: the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER) led by University of Technology Sydney (UTS). The aim of this collaboration is to combine archaeological questions with forensic science.
In order to reconstruct the sequence of funerary actions, Eline developed a protocol for the identification of pre-depositional treatment such as different forms of (former) mummification (desiccation, smoking) and colourant applications. Controlled and repetitive experiments of human body decay are being conducted at the Australian AFTER Body Farm. The new methods are applied to Neolithic Near Eastern burials which are known for body part manipulations such as skull removal. The results will be combined with ethnological research to increase our understanding of social choices and ideology behind certain funerary actions.
ArchFarm is an interdisciplinary study that will create methodological novelties relevant to several periods. Based on a combination of archaeo-anthropology, forensic science and ethno-archaeology, this study will produce a more holistic narrative of funerary practices.