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Title: The final masquerade : a molecular-based approach to the identification of resinous plant exudates in Roman mortuary contexts in Britain and evaluation of their significance
Author: Brettell, Rhea C.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7231 5677
Awarding Body: University of Bradford
Current Institution: University of Bradford
Date of Award: 2016
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This study provides chemical confirmation for the use of resinous plant exudates in mortuary contexts in Roman Britain. Analysis of amorphous masses, adhering residues and grave deposits using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry has revealed terpenoid biomarkers in sixteen inhumation and two cremation burials. The natural products characterized include European Pinaceae (conifer) resins, Pistacia spp. (mastic/terebinth) resins from the Mediterranean or the Levant and Boswellia spp. (frankincense) gum-resins from southern Arabia or eastern Africa. In addition, traces of a balsamic resin, probably Liquidambar orientalis, have been identified. A correlation between the use of these exotic exudates and interment in substantial, often multiple, containers with high-quality textiles and grave goods was observed. Theoretical consideration of this imported rite illuminates the multiplicity of roles played by resins/gum-resins in the mortuary sphere. The material properties of these highly scented substances speak to the biological reality of the decomposing body and to the socially constructed identity of the individual. On a practical level, they acted as temporary preservatives and masked the odour of decay. As social signifiers, they denoted the status of the deceased and promoted remembrance through conspicuous consumption and sensory impact. Encoded with ritual meaning, they purified the body and facilitated the final rite of passage to the afterlife. The recovery of these resinous traces provides us with new insights into the treatment of the body in the Roman period and establishes fresh links between the remote province of Britannia and the remainder of the Empire.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Molecular analysis ; Resinous plant exudates ; Gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) ; Mortuary rites ; Body treatment ; Materiality ; Roman Britain