Abstract – An Osteological and Historical Study of Three Roman Funerary Urns at the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum Collection

Lay attempts to provide information about the matter extracted from Roman funerary urns at the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum Collection. These urns date sometime between the first and third century CE, and were probably excavated from the necropolis on the Via Salaria. Roman funerary urns contained the cremated remains of human bones (cremains), but on occasion also held the remains of animals or small items. Further, Romans also practiced the habit of placing more than one person’s cremains in a funerary urn. Regarding the bones themselves, the data of Lay’s research includes: size, color, layer number, quadrant letter, fracture pattern, and any other observations. From these data, she sets out to identify age, sex, possible ailments, and the number of people’s bones Lay also discusses the significance of weight, urn layers, bone color and pyre temperature. In trying to elucidate such information from said bones, she also provides context for Roman death ritual through her discussion of “columbaria” and inscriptions. From her research, Lay believes she found multiple people’s cremains in the urns. She says, “I found that there was at least one adult, probably female, though the bones were rather robust. There was also an elderly adult of indeterminate sex, and a juvenile, also of indeterminate sex.” In addition to the bones, Lay’s research indicates that a high proportion of the material found in her urns was inorganic, which suggests much still needs to be unearthed with regards to Roman funerary practices.

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