Food for the dead, fuel for the pyre: symbolism and function of plant remains in provincial Roman cremation rituals in the necropolis of Bracara Augusta (NW Iberia)

Filipe Costa Vaz*, Cristina Braga, João Pedro Tereso, Cláudia Oliveira, Lara Gonzalez Carretero, Cleia Detry, Bruno Marcos, Luís Fontes, Manuela Martins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper analyses and discusses the fuel and plant offerings found in 174 primary (pyre remains) and secondary contexts (ritual pits) of the necropolis of Via XVII in Bracara Augusta (Braga), in northern Portugal. This site is one of the largest Roman funerary complexes in the Iberian Peninsula, spanning from the last decades of the 1st century BC to the 7th century AD. More than 42500 charcoal fragments, comprising 44 different taxa, were analysed. Wood from deciduous Quercus was the most frequent, although other taxa such as Fraxinus sp., Fabaceae, Salix sp., Prunus sp., Rosaceae Maloideae and Castanea sativa were also relevant. The main criteria for the wood collection and use in the pyres might have been its availability in the region, although symbolic factors cannot be discarded. Evidence of wood from Fagus sylvatica and Pinus sylvestris, allowed to discuss the range of wood catchment area. A total of 407 remains of fruits and seeds were also identified in the samples, including shells of Juglans regia nuts, seeds and cones of Pinus pinea, endocarps of Prunus avium, P. domestica and P. persica, cotyledons of domestic pulses and a fragments of Cupressus sempervirens fruits. These remains were associated with symbolic and ritual aspects of the roman cremation ceremony. The results obtained were interpreted and contextualized according to their known use in the ritual process of Roman cremations by reviewing data from classical literary sources and other sites throughout the Roman Empire.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-383
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary International
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA

Funding Information:
The work of FCV, CB, BM and JPT was supported by PhD and Pos-doc grants from the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT - Portugal) with the references SFRH/BD/99930/2014 , SFRH/BD/98413/2013 , SFRH/BD/99469/2014 and SFRH/BPD/88250/2012 , respectively, funded by POCH - Programa Operacional Capital Humano, European Social Fund and the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education. CO was supported by a research grant from the Archaeological Unit of the University of Minho and a PhD contract funded by Lorraine Université d'Excellence.


  • Archaeobotany
  • Bracara Augusta
  • Cremations
  • Rituals
  • Roman period

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