Week 4: Rituals with Fire – Group A Data

This week, Group A worked with Austin and Group D on investigating early English cremation rites with linen-wrapped pork shoulders. We were comparing the arguments of Calvin Wells and Jackie McKinley over the shape of the pyre and position of our “bodies.”


The first steps in this process were to weigh our pork shoulders both bare and wrapped in linen secured with a brooch. Group A’s shoulder initially weighed 4.074 kilograms bare, and then 4.119 kilograms when wrapped in the green linen. We then got to work on the pyre, which ended up being 115 centimeters tall (or 3.7 feet) and 140 centimeters (4.5 feet) across as its longest point. Our pyre was finally constructed at 2:20pm, and it was a windy and partly cloudy day. The initial temperature of our pork was 11° C when placed in the pyre, placed underneath the logs and in the pit itself, and with that, we were ready to get the fire started.


We struggled to get the wood to catch initially, with just the brush catching and then reducing to smoke, but then at 2:45pm, a small fire started, and by 2:47pm a blaze was burning. From 2:40 to 4:45, we took temperature readings on our pork every five minutes, although we are unsure if our thermocouple readings are correct as we got some varying numbers and widely fluctuating temperatures at our intervals.

2:40pm26.1°C, no blaze yet, just sunlight
2:45pm11.2°C, fire catches at 2:47pm and burns fast
2:50pm672.5°C, blaze hits 851°C at 2:51 with a bright orange column of flame, too hot to be anywhere near
2:55pm867°C, cloth blackening and fire continuing to burn
3:20pm742°C, by this point cloth completely blackened and wood completely whitened
3:25pm767°C, wood has collapsed on top of shoulder but definitely still meat on the bone
4:20pm416°C, wood has mostly disintegrated and only remnants are still burning but are still hot
4:45pm91°C, called it to return tomorrow and look at remains
Time and Temp. table for Group A’s pork


The next day, we went out to dig through the ash and study the remains of our “body”, taking it back to the lab. In the ash, we could find bone and bits of cloth, but no sign of the brooch that had once secured the cloth. We carried our body back to the lab to weigh and examine it. Post-cremation attempt, our pork shoulder now weighed 1.63 kilograms. Despite the top being mostly cooked away and the bone being exposed, the bottom of our shoulder, which had been on the ground, was mostly intact, with the outside of the cloth blackened and the inside recognizably green. That part of the shoulder also still had skin and flesh. This tells us that the method of placing the body on the ground and building the fire over it was ineffective for achieving complete cremation. We know that the exposed bones reached around 900-1000°C due to their coloration, but we were unable to examine the unexposed bones to the remaining flesh on the shoulder.

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