Burial urn dates from around 1500BC

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In early civilisations – and still in some societies today – the dead were first cremated, and then buried. Today’s exhibit from Scarborough Museums Trust is variously known as a cinerary, funerary or burial urn.

The word ‘cinerary’ derives from the Latin cinerarius, meaning ‘of ashes’ – the same source as the more common word, ‘incinerate’. After the cremation, the ashes would be gathered and put into the urn, which may or may not have had a lid, then buried. Cinerary urns were common in many societies: examples dating from around 7000 BC have been found in China, and they were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and in this country at various periods including Anglo Saxon times.

The urn in our picture dates from around 1500 BC, so Bronze Age, and was excavated locally, in the southern part of the Borough.

It can be seen as part of the next Museums Trust store tour, which is on Tuesday 30 July, and takes the subject of surface decoration as its theme. The urn has a decorative band around the rim, known as a ‘twisted cord’ pattern as it was made by – you’ve guessed it – a piece of cord or rope being twisted and then impressed into the wet clay.

Other popular techniques included ‘sharp lines’, a repeat pattern made by using an implement with a fine edge, such as a piece of bone, or even a long thumbnail; diaper pattern, a repeated geometric shape, such as a diamond; or combed – straight or wavy lines made by using a toothed, comb-like tool of some sort.

All of the techniques described above have been used on ceramics by civilisations across the world and the centuries. The tour will be led by Karen Snowden, Head of Collections at the Museums Trust, who points out that they’re still in use today, on both primitive and sophisticated ceramics, but also by home bakers who use similar methods to decorate pies.

Collections tours are on the final Tuesday of each month. Each takes around an hour, and participants are asked to meet at Scarborough Art Gallery at 2pm before heading next door to Woodend Creative Workspace, where the Collections are housed in modern storage facilities in the basement.

Places on the tour cost £2 each, and are limited, so booking is recommended. To book, or for further information, please call the Art Gallery on 01723 374753.