The primary objective of this research is to engage archaeological materials with historical models to address past human responses to death, the afterlife and the role of ritual. Previous work, largely confined to cremations in the Roman period (Kreutz 2000), has shown the capacity for such studies to transform our understanding of ritual practices.

The detailed and controlled sampling allows clarification of whether plant remains are present as deliberate sacrifice by fire, as food remains consumed during the ritual performed, or as part of the original fuel of the fire. The clarification of these issues plays a crucial role in a developing full understanding of the observed practices and the subsequent interpretation of people’s choices. In this way, it is possible to reconstruct funerary and ritual practices.

Specifically, this project will: 1) identify rites and their stages through the composition of the deposits; 2) observe variation of the plant remains by context (burials vs altars and ritual vs quotidian); 3) examine whether the plant remains are imports from other areas, whether they are edible and whether they are intended to be consumed; 4) observe continuity or discontinuity of rites through time, with the altar of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion representing an excellent case study as it is in use for more than 3 millennia; 5) determine whether plants mentioned in the literature as symbols of sleep, death, reincarnation, immortality (such as laurel and pomegranate) were actually used; 6) and compare ritual and domestic archaeobotanical data sets within Greece. For the first time, the plant remains will contribute to a holistic interpretation of the ritual past.

Overall, this project aims to understand the meaning and social implications of the use of plants and food in ritual contexts. To do so the study will progress far beyond the basic definition and identification of species, and interpret the qualities and processes of agency involved in these varied acts of burning and the complicated traditions they maintained and innovated within. Chronological and spatial variation, and variation between different types of ritual fire, will be defined and interpreted in order to understand how similar qualities of action might be related and reproduced. The unique concentration of such contexts in Greece makes this the ideal focal point for the study, and the results of the project will inform the future interpretation of such contexts throughout Europe.