Blackfriary: an infant burial
Burial 3, Cutting 3
Burial 3 is one of the many interesting finds located in the complex and busy Cutting 3. Malika Hays originally uncovered the burial and found an infant in situ; she initially exposed a large portion of the fragmented skull and some long bones.
Blackfriary Burial 3, Cutting 3
It took approximately, two days to uncover the majority of the infant skeleton. With a trowel, bamboo stick, sponge and water I slowly began removing the dirt from the bones. The bones are small and fragile, so I worked slowly in order to decrease the risk of breaks and dislodging the bones from the soil. Spraying the burial and the surrounding soil with water eased my worries. The damp soil makes it easier to remove the dirt and makes the bones stick to the ground. The cautious work paid off! The majority of the bones are intact.
With the infant’s bones exposed, Siobhan, the Queen of osteology, helped me fill out the skeleton report sheet. The infant is extended and facing east. The positioning of the burial is important because the body appears to have been purposely placed facing east, towards Jerusalem, indicating a Christian burial tradition.
After photos and levels were taken of the head, feet and pelvis, Siobhan and I began to remove the skeleton from the burial. We slowly worked on excavating the skeleton from the skull to the feet. Since the skull was so fragmented, it was the most difficult and time consuming piece to excavate. Despite the trouble, the sphenoid was found intact in situ. We also found some teeth. Siobhan says that the crowns of the teeth are present, but that the roots have not developed. Based on the characteristics of the teeth, she believes that the infant may have been 0-3 months old.
Once all of the bones were removed and soil samples were collected from underneath the skull, hands(?) pelvis and feet, we had to try and determine the grave cut or boundaries of the burial. At first we tried spraying the burial site and the surrounding soil with water to see if we could spot any discolouration which could indicate the extent of the burial cut. Unfortunately, this did not yield any results. This led Siobhan and I to excavate a sondage into the north south and east west sections. This followed the placement of the head, hands and feet and allowed us to collect more soil for sieving and see if there was a change in the soil. We were unable to determine the full extent of the burial, but it appears to be a shallow-curved grave cut. Typically, graves are cut into undisturbed ground, but this grave has been cut in disturbed soil resulting in the discovery of (additional) disarticulated human bone.
As I worked on cleaning the bones from Burial 3, Siobhan busied herself with bagging and recording the bones from the other burials. Once Siobhan finished, she began to bag the dry bones from Burial 3 as I worked on sieving the soil we collected. Tweezers are a wonderful tool for collecting little shards of bone!
Siobhan busy bagging the bones from Burial 3
I finished sieving the soil this afternoon and we hope to have all the bones bagged by tomorrow.
August 9th 2011