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Last day of the festival

Mourners
The mourners gather around the body of the departed.
Procession
The procession to the funeral site.
Pyre alight
The departed (replaced with the body of a pig), placed on the funeral pyre.
A range of grave goods accompanied the deceased into the afterlife.
And the flames took hold...

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

So the festival ended. After two weeks of almost continuous events across three of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’s sites. And the best was definitely saved until last.

With fine weather throughout the day The Vicus put on a fantastic show. They performed a Roman funeral ceremony in the centre of St Fagans before a crowd of two to three hundred people. A young lady played the recently departed and two gladiators fought for her.

Then the mourners processed to the funeral pyre, an impressive timber platform around which more rituals were performed, and where the young lady was substituted for a pig.

There followed tense moments for the organizers. It’s easy to schedule a cremation ritual, and building the pyre wasn’t too challenging, but with all the wet weather the day before, would it light? With a hundred and fifty people watching as a fire brand was thrust into the middle of the pyre, a fizzle would not have looked good.

But good fortune smiled and the pyre lit, smoking heavily before the flames spread. The grave goods on the pyre were quickly burnt or broken, with one glass bottle melting in the heat.

It burnt for the rest of the afternoon, until by closing time on the site there was just a bed of ash with the unburnt back of the pig resting on top. By next morning almost all of this had burnt away and we set about recovering the cremated bones and the grave goods for further analysis.

Cremated remains are common finds from the Bronze Age and Roman periods and our work here will go some way to helping interpret these finds when they come up in future. So a great spectacle and a useful source of data.

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