Death in Flames: Human Remains from a Domestic House Fire from Early Iron Age, Denmark

Lise Harvig, Jacob Kveiborg, Niels Lynnerup

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This paper presents osteoarchaeological analyses of the human skeletal material from a burnt down house in Jutland, Denmark, dated to the first century bc. We describe how the osteological analyses of this complex site were approached and illustrate how we reconstructed the death of the human victims. Besides basic osteological analyses, we also tried to reconstruct the posture of the deceased humans using 12-in. posable wooden mannequins. Along with bones from several domestic animals, skeletal elements from six human individuals were recovered. All individuals were located in the eastern end of the house—the byre end. The demographic structure indicates a small family household. Our posture reconstruction further proposes that they did not die of asphyxiation while sleeping: At least two of the individuals were lying face down, trying to protect themselves. Two other individuals were lying on their side in crouching positions, which cannot be ruled out as examples of pugilistic attitude. However, we suggest this is rather unlikely. The humans could have died as they failed to rescue their invaluable animals from the fire.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Pages (from-to)701-710
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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