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Lipids, funerals, gifts and feasts. Organic residue analysis on Merovingian ceramics from the Elversele burial field (Belgium)

Van de Velde, Thomas, Deschepper, Ewoud, Mestdagh, Bert, De Clercq, Wim, Vandenabeele, Peter, Lynen, Frederic
Journal of archaeological science: Reports 2019 v.24 pp. 30-38
animal fats and oils, archaeology, ceramics, foods, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, lipids, organic compounds, Belgium
During the excavation of a Merovingian cemetery in Elversele (Temse, Belgium), archaeologists encountered nine burials each with one earthenware vessel clearly deposited in the graves, dating to the 6th–7th century AD. Vessels as grave goods are often linked with funerary feasting in Merovingian contexts, the contents of the vessels than acting as funerary meals in gift-giving relationships. However, as the custom of depositing vessels seems to diminish throughout the 6th and 7th century, it has been suggested that such vessels in most cases functioned only symbolically and that they held no actual foodstuffs. In order to verify or debunk this hypothesis, eight of the nine vessels from Elversele were sampled for organic residue analysis. Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry (GC–MS) was used on the archaeological samples and various organic compounds related to foodstuffs were identified. This was complemented with an archaeological assessment of the pottery. Traces of animal fats and possibly also vegetal matter have been attested and, together with the results of the archaeological assessment, form clear evidence for the deposition of foodstuffs in these graves.