The Ashes of Our Bodies Tell an Important Story About Our Lives

When you get cremated, you assume that you are in a situation where you are unidentifiable anymore. Ashes are something that, to the everyday person, would not hold any discernible characteristics or personality traits. Cremated remains, therefore, are seen as one of the most challenging finds for an archaeology team. If you dig up a mummified corpse or a body preserved in peat, much can be discovered about the person. What about ashes, though?

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Surprisingly, they can tell us more than we would have first assumed. Tim Thompson, a professor in biological anthropology at the Teesside University in England believes he might have found something intriguing. Thanks to technological advancements, we can now look beyond the basic ashes and look closer within – and some of the stories that ashes can tell are quite significant.

Given that fire more or less eliminates any sign of genetics, archaeology teams have focused on developing a process that would help us find out a little bit more. Even with cremation, there are millimeters of bone left over that can be used as a starting point for analysis.

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The study was carried out using a range of features that differentiate the human body of a male from that of a female. Then, they compared the identity of 124 cremated individuals. The bodies were believed to have been cremated 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. Of the features used to spot differences, one-third of them were able to provide an accuracy standard of 80% and above.

Another factor that clouds the results, though, comes from what the person was buried with. Women were typically buried with cosmetic items like hair combs and ceramic beads. Men went to their graves surrounded by weaponry and items they used in battle.

For now, though, this study at least shows us that if we dig deep enough into ashes, we can find out some precious details about the people who are now simply a pile of ash. It might not tell us as much as a mummified body could, but it at least lets us have a good guess at what their gender was if nothing else.