Traditionally, the Balearic so-called ‘quicklime burials’ of the Iron Age have been considered to be inhumations in quicklime. The general appearance of the bones, however, resembles more closely that of cremated bones. Laboratory tests reveal that the observed features of the bones from these burials, including cracks, thumbnail fractures and warping, cannot be explained by an inhumation in quicklime. The δ 13C value, Fourier transform infrared spectra, SF values and the low carbon content of the apatite moreover indicate a thermal manipulation of the bones. The 14C content is depleted with regard to the accepted archaeological age of the sample, which can best be explained by carbon exchange between bio-apatite and fossil CO2 released during the heating of limestone. This implies that the Balearic ‘quicklime burials’ must be interpreted as an elaborate cremation practice in presence of limestone. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.