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Human bone ashes found in the Dama de Elche (V-IV century B.C.) reveal its use as an ancient cinerary urn

AuthorsLuxán, María Pilar de; Prada, José Luis; Dorrego, F.
KeywordsDama de Elche
Cinerary urn
Human bone ashes
Iberian sculpture
Issue Date2011
PublisherElsevier BV
CitationJournal of Cultural Heritage 12: 310-316 (2011)
AbstractThe Dama de Elche figure is a polychromed stone life-size bust and is recognized as an emblematic piece of Iberian Art (V-IV century B.C.). The Dama de Elche possesses a small cavity in the back whose function has been object of several unconfirmed hypothesis since its discovery in 1897, due to the fact that no apparent indications of its former use could be found. This research has been centered on the analysis of the cavity and the search of data as to be able to confirm its former use. A superficial base-gypsum layer that covered the sculpture had been also detected on the surface of the cavity. Afterwards a recrystallization process took place due to temperature and relative humidity changes. By microscope techniques, several carbonaceous particles have been identified that were immersed inside the recrystallized superficial CaSO4.2H2O (gypsum) layer, not visible by visual inspection. The use of the bust as a cinerary urn has been verified with the detection of carbonaceous microparticles in which phosphorus and calcium rich fragments have been identified. The obtained Ca:P ratio indicates their bone origin. The comparison of these analyzed data with other fired remains from human bone samples found in a nearby Iberian archaeological site of the same date holds a very high similarity, which confirms its analogous origin. There are also slag and sinterized particles inside the cavitiy produced at high temperatures. These results are coherent with the cremation funerary rites of Iberian culture that included the setting, even partially, of the ashes inside an urn. The detection of strontium ions, side by side the carbonaceous particles inside the cavity, are related with the thermal process induced at the time of depositing the bone ashes, still hot, from the cremation ritual. In relation to the bust authenticity, these new found data support that the Dama de Elche is a piece of Iberian culture. No data was found to support that it might have been a XIX century forgery. © 2011 Elsevier Masson SAS.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2010.12.006
Identifiersdoi: 10.1016/j.culher.2010.12.006
issn: 1296-2074
Appears in Collections:(IETCC) Artículos
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