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The ‘Semblance of Immortality'? Resinous Materials and Mortuary Rites in Roman Britain



There is increasing evidence for complexity in mortuary practices in Britain during the Roman period. One class of burials demonstrates an association between inhumation in stone sarcophagi or lead-lined coffins, ‘plaster’ coatings, textile shrouds and natural resins. It has been suggested that this ‘package’ represents a deliberate attempt at body preservation. Fragments with a resinous appearance found in one such burial from Arrington, Cambridgeshire, UK were analysed using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. The triterpenic compounds identified are biomarkers for the genus Pistacia and provide the first chemical evidence for an exotic resin in a mortuary context in Roman Britain.