Are radiocarbon dating and Bayesian chronological modelling useful in Classical Archaeology?

Dr Ricardo Fernandes1,2,3, Dr Jesús Torres-Martínez4, Dr Philippe  Sciau5, Dr Christian  Hamann6, Dr Manuel  Fernández-Götz7

1Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany, 2University of Oxford, Oxford, Germany, 3Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic, 4IMBEAC, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain, 5Center for Materials Elaboration and Structural Studies – French National Centre for Scientific Research, Toulouse, France, 6Leibniz-Laboratory for Radiometric Dating and Isotope Research, Kiel, Germany, 7School of History, Classics & Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

The oppidum site of Monte Bernorio in northern Spain was likely laid under siege and destroyed by Augustus’ legions during the course of the Cantabrian Wars (29 and 19 BCE). These wars constitute the last stage in the gradual annexation of the Iberian Peninsula by Rome and of its transition from the Iron Age into the Roman period. Located within Monte Bernorio were burial deposits containing cremated human remains mixed with partial fragments of artefacts and animal bones suggesting the symbolic practice of Pars pro toto (part taken for whole).
To investigate the chronology of burial practices at Monte Bernorio and potential links to the siege event we employed Bayesian modelling of available chronological evidence: stratigraphic sequence, typological dating, coin dating, written records, and radiocarbon measurements on animal and plant remains. Modelling results revealed intricate burial practices, with the transfer of animal bone remains from older graves into more recent ones and the start of the site preceding the timing of the siege. One of the graves contained partial fragments of a Terra Siggilata bowl of Italian origin; established from measurements of elemental composition. It was likely acquired during the siege given that the first exports of Italian Terra Siggilata took place in c. 30 BCE. Its deposition in a grave in a fragmentary state, although in line with the Pars pro toto practice observed for other graves at Monte Bernorio, might have also symbolized the destruction of the Roman enemy. It is possible that the use of the burial site intensified during the siege but given the small number of analysed graves it is not possible to confirm this.
The Monte Bernorio case study illustrates how the integration of multiple sources of chronological evidence can be integrated within a Bayesian framework to better understand the temporal development of complex social phenomena.


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Nov 16 2021


11:45 am - 12:40 pm