To achieve this, we built a small pyre of seasoned oak branches cut to length (simulating round logs), with animal bones placed on top. The pyre took the "criss-cross" form broadly accepted to have been the method for such cremations, and was lit using authentic techniques. The resulting transformitive roaring flame lasted for approximately two hours, achieving temperatures far in excess of a typical campfire. It was interesting to note that this arrangement encouraged inward, rather than outward collapse, such that un-burned timbers, and the bodily remains themselves were deposited further into the heart of the fire as it burned. Various aspects of this simulation had been carefully balanced; much of the energy in an open cremation is used up boiling off the huge quantity of water in tissues, but, on the other hand, various constituents of the body (particularly high-energy fats) are thought to promote high temperatures in the pyre. The ratio of fuel to cinerary matter was carefully chosen to go some way to accounting for other issues resulting from the scaling down of the pyre.
The following morning, ash, coals, and the degraded bone fragments remained. It was interesting to note that,for the most part the bones remained fairly intact, although they had lost most of their mass, becoming light and brittle. In a full cremation it is likely that falling timbers would often smash these fragile pieces, but the relatively intact state in our simulation goes some way to explain why bone fragments found in real cremation urns survive in identifiable pieces.
The remains, including ash, coals, and manually crushed degraded bone, were added to a small replica Anglian cinerary urn fashioned after examples from Loveden Hill, Lincolnshire. Added to the remains were modest grave goods; a small token bone comb and a copper-alloy toilet set.
The result was a fairly convincing cinerary urn and contents, ready to be buried at educational events and exhumed by plucky budding archaeologists. Although simulated inhumations are becoming a familiar feature at educational events, it is very much worth emphasizing the importance of cinerary burials too. Such burials dominate in early cemeteries in Anglian regions, and although the goods associated with this rite are usually less impressive than are found in inhumations, the spectacular nature of such send-offs, and the materials necessary for them show that this rite was not the poorer cousin of inhumation, but rather an elaborate expression of wealth, culture and belief among the pre-Christian communities of England in the 5th-7th centuries.