Middle Bronze Age (1600-1200 BC). Chippenham, Cambridgeshire.
Excavated by C.S. Leaf. MAA 1934.1040.
This modeled clay urn with incised decorations contains partially cremated human remains. The Bronze Age marked a shift in people’s relation to dead bodies, as cremations came to replace inhumations as the dominant mortuary practice in Europe.
The shift to cremation reveals new attitudes toward the human body. The cremation fire literally ruptured the body and transformed it into a new substance. The remains were collected, selected, re-assembled and then placed in an urn.
Funerary urns were buried underground and concealed from view. The decoration on the rim and shoulders of the urn, along with the partially cremated remains that it contains, would have been the last thing people saw as the body was interred.
The urn may be seen as a way of reconstituting a person’s skin, giving a new kind of wholeness to the body’s remains. Urns embodied persons, while at the same time providing metaphorical links to storage vessels and houses. The parts of the body that were selected for the urn, the choice of where it was buried, and the containment of certain people over others, were acts that crafted particular kinds of bodies.