Raman spectroscopy was evaluated as a non-destructive analytical tool for the characterisation of white substances in burials. In addition, Fourier transform Raman spectroscopy was used to assess the conversion of hydrated lime into calcium carbonate. Fourteen samples of white substances from archaeological and forensic sites were analysed and characterised. The results show that not all white residues in burials are lime. Lime can easily be mistaken for other building materials (gypsum), for minerals (brushite) or degraded metal (cerussite). This study highlights the need for chemical analysis of white residues when encountered in burials. Analytical information derived from Raman spectra of white substances can further assist in the interpretation of the taphonomic processes of burials and their funerary context. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.