It has dawned on me recently that I have been studying burned and cremated bone for over 20 years now. Which either suggests that it is a really interesting topic, or I’m a terrible researcher who has discovered nothing. Lets go with the former… My interest in this area began while I was studying my MSc at Bradford and developed into a PhD. From there, I have continued to explore the complex heat-induced changes that bone experiences when burned, and the effect of these on human identification.

As well as developing new methods, I have been fortunate to study a range of fascinating archaeological contexts, including Anglo-Saxon and Roman remains from the UK, excavations from Sardinia and Lebanon, and recently, Herculaneum. This latter work led to an interesting debate in the literature on the preservation of soft tissues. It got a bit heated. See what I did there…

Away from burned remains, I have also spent time trying to understand diagenetic change and pathways in the skeleton and the impact of submersion on the body. We also had a few projects looking at the impact of decomposition on bacterial communities in the soil environment.


Check out some examples:

  • Monetti, L., Gafner, K.B. and Thompson, T.J.U. (2021) Burning issues with the archaeology of fire. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 39: 103156.
  • Paba, R., Thompson, T.J.U., Fanti, L. and Lugliè, C. (2021) Rising from the ashes: A multi-technique analytical approach to determine cremation. A case study from a Middle Neolithic burial in Sardinia (Italy). Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 36: 102855.
  • Morton-Hayward, A.L., Thompson, T., Thomas-Oates, J.E., Buckley, S., Petzold, A., Ramsøe, A., O’Connor, S. and Collins, M.J. (2020) A conscious rethink: Why is brain tissue commonly preserved in the archaeological record? Commentary on: Petrone P, Pucci P, Niola M, et al. Heat-induced brain vitrification from the Vesuvius eruption in C.E. 79. N Engl J Med 2020;382:383-4. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc1909867. STAR: Science & Technology of Archaeological Research doi: 10.1080/20548923.2020.1815398
  • Martyn, R., Craig, O.E., Ellingham, S.T.E., Islam, M., Fattore, L., Sperduti, A., Bondioli, L. and Thompson, T. (2020) A re-evaluation of manner of death at Roman Herculaneum following the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius. Antiquity 94: 76–91.
  • Thompson, T.J.U., Gonçalves, D., Squires, K. and Ulguim, P. (2017) Thermal alteration to the body. In: Schotsmans, E. et al (eds.) Taphonomy of human remains: forensic analysis of the dead and the depositional environment. Wiley-Blackwell. pp318-334.
  • Thomas, B., McIntosh, D., Fildes, T., Smith, L., Hargrave, F., Islam, M., Thompson, T.J.U., Layfield, R., Scott, D., Shaw, B., Burrell, C.L. and Taylor, S. (2017) Second-harmonic generation imaging of collagen in ancient bone. Bone Reports 7: 137-144.
  • Ellingham, S.T.D., Thompson, T.J.U. and Islam, M. (2017) Scanning Electron Microscopy-Energy Dispersive X-ray (SEM/EDX): A rapid diagnostic tool to aid the identification of burnt bone and contested cremains. Journal of Forensic Sciences doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13541.
  • Thompson, T.J.U., Szigeti, J., Gowland, R.L. and Witcher, R.E. (2016) Death on the frontier: military cremation practices in the north of Roman Britain. Journal of Archaeological Science Reports 10: 828-836.
  • Griffith, S.J., Thompson, C.E.L., Thompson, T.J.U., and Gowland, R.L. (2016) Experimental abrasion of water submerged bone: The influence of bombardment by different sediment classes on microabrasion rate. Journal of Archaeological Science Reports 10: 15-29.
  • Ralebitso-Senior, T.K., Thompson, T.J.U. and Carney, H.E. (2016) Microbial ecogenomics and forensic archaeology: New methods for investigating clandestine gravesites. Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal 2: 41-57.
  • Piga, G., Guirguis, M., Thompson, T.J.U., Isidro, A., Enzo, S., and Malgosa, A. (2016) A case of semi-combusted pregnant female in the Phoenician-Punic necropolis of Monte Sirai (Carbonia, Sardinia, Italy). Homo – Journal of Comparative Human Biology 67: 50-64.
  • Ellingham, S.T.D., Thompson, T.J.U., and Islam, M. (2016) The effect of soft tissue on temperature estimation from burnt bone using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. Journal of Forensic Sciences 61: 153 – 159.
  • Thompson, T.J.U. (ed.) (2015) The Archaeology of cremation: Burned human remains in funerary studies. Oxbow Books.
  • Ellingham, S.T.D, Thompson, T.J.U., Islam, M. and Taylor, G. (2015) Estimating temperature exposure on burnt bone – a methodological review. Science & Justice 55: 181-188.
  • DeBattista, R., Thompson, T.J.U., Thompson, C.E.L. and Gowland, R.L. (2013) A comparison of surface features on submerged and non-submerged bone using scanning electron microscopy. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 20: 770-776.
  • Gonçalves, D., Cunha, E. and Thompson, T.J.U. (2013) Weight references for burned human skeletal remains from Portuguese samples. Journal of Forensic Sciences 58: 1134-1140.
  • Gonçalves, D., Cunha, E. and Thompson, T.J.U. (2013) Osteometric sex determination of burned human skeletal remains. Journal of Legal and Forensic Medicine 20: 906-911.