Tag Archives: Biblical Archaeology

The Roundup #32

One of these days – likely when whatever has been acting as a place-holder for winter this year finally goes the way of the dinosaurs – I will be more regular with my posts. In the meantime, this roundup covers March 14th to 20th inclusive. Enjoy!

From Archaeology.org:

Indian statues, illegally sold into the US, have been seized at Christie’s auction house by US authorities. I presume they’re being returned, but one never knows with US authorities.

Hikers are having a wonderful time in Israel these days, as another person has discovered a stunning artefact – this time a gold coin from the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

Caesar may have been assassinated on the Ides of March, but he did his own share of killing before then, as this feature shows of his time in Gaul.

Dentistry, religion, and medieval books come together at last following the discovery of annotated sections of Britain’s oldest Bible from 3-D x-ray imaging.

It is likely that the remains of Sweden’s Saint Erik have been discovered in Uppsalla.

More of the ongoing hype about the possibility of additional rooms in Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

A paleolithic carving of a bird has been discovered in southern France.

From the Smithsonian:

One of the ships from explorer Vasco da Gama’s fleet has been discovered off the coast of Oman.

From The Guardian:

A huge Iron Age site has been discovered in Yorkshire containing skeletons, swords, pots, beads, and other artefacts that tell the story of this place.

And from the LA Times:

The mysterious life of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas is front and centre again as archaeologists have identified the cave where she lived alone on the island for 18 years, and inspired one of my favourite novels “The Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell.

Child Sacrifice in Carthage and Beyond

In a recent Roundup, I posted a link to an article in Biblical Archaeology called “Did the Carthaginians Really Practice Infant Sacrifice?” about the ongoing (and seemingly eternal) debate about whether or not the people of Carthage sacrificed their children to the Punic gods Baal Hammon and Tanit. I feel that, when it comes right down to it, that this debate has never been about interpreting the archaeological evidence – at least not exclusively -and has instead centred on whether or not we judge the Carthaginians on Judaeo-Christian moral grounds and whether we continue the ancient propaganda campaign of vilifying a formidable enemy begun by the Romans.

Umberto Eco, in his essay “Inventing the Enemy” (trans. 2012), detailed the ways in which we create the enemy we need, as a society and as a culture, beginning with this enemy’s appearance and carrying on to address how different ‘we’ are from ‘them’. This social othering, a concept very familiar in anthropological circles, (see Harrison’s Greeks and Barbarians, Edinburgh Readings on the Ancient World, 2002), is a socio-cultural action that defines an enemy and, by extension, helps to qualify and quantify one’s own culture, one’s own self. So why, therefore, is the question of child sacrifice in Punic Carthage such a contentious one?

To provide some context to this debate, let us review the place and the culture we are considering. Carthage was established in the 9th century BCE as a Phoenician colony, its people most likely originating from Tyre in the Levant. The Phoenicians – a semitic people – were active colonizers, who established settlements throughout the Mediterranean, most notably in Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, the Balearic Islands, and North Africa. By the 7th century BCE, Carthage was becoming an extremely successful maritime power, settling its own colonies and trading with peoples as far away as the Atlantic coast of West Africa. They were a thriving port city well into the 3rd century when, as Rome was expanding throughout Italy, a series of conflicts between the two city-states (and, at this point I argue that both Rome and Carthage were such) led ultimately to the destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE. Punic Carthage then, describes the city during its ascent as a maritime power, as well as suggesting both the gradual relinquishing of association with other Phoenician settlements and, I believe, their recognition by Rome as an ‘other’ to be aware of.

Archaeological work at Carthage began in the late 19th and early 20th century, conducted mostly by amateurs, explorers and seekers of the ancient world, as well as wealthy men and their proteges, none of whom were well versed in the archaeological techniques being developed to protect a site during excavation. To put it more simply, these guys were very happy to use dynamite to get to where they figured the most interesting stuff was.

From the first, these amateur archaeologists, as they unearthed the ancient city of Carthage, recognized that what they were excavating around the hill of Juno, the hill of the Byrsa, and along the western edge of the ancient harbour, were sites of funerary ritual (Lancel, p. 233ff). They aptly – and tellingly – dubbed the area near the ancient harbour the ‘tophet’ of Carthage. The original Tophet was an area in Jerusalem where children were burnt alive as sacrifices to Canaanite gods, according to the Hebrew Bible (2 Kings 23:10, Jeremiah 7:31-34, 19:6, 19: 11-14, Isaiah 30:33). Immediately this site and the activities that went on here in the ancient world were associated with human sacrifice and Judeo-Christian concepts of blasphemy. Since then, right up into the 1970s, the issue of child sacrifice was established in the canon – Carthage did such things, Rome defeated Carthage, might is right, etc.

One of the most renowned archaeologists of Carthage, Serge Lancel, completed a detailed survey of the remains of the ancient city, published first in French in 1992. In it, he addresses the issue of child sacrifice:

“The controversy revealed how difficult it was to appreciate the reality of a practice which the Old Testament bore witness to while condemning it, just as later it provoked the horrified condemnation of the classical world. We shall see that this very human reaction still underlies the interpretation sometimes given even today to a reality that no one tries any longer to deny. Furthermore, Pallary’s analyses (1922), although at the time based on an insufficient number of pieces of evidence, already revealed that, compared with animal remains, there was a higher proportion of infant remains in ‘level C’ than in ‘level A’. The most recent excavations fully confirm the finding, which at first sight appears paradoxical, that from the earliest times onward the number of substitutions declined, and thus that the harshness of the sacrificial rite was greater in the fourth and third centuries BC.” (Lancel, p.233).

In addition, we have three other groups of archaeologists and academics who have most recently been in the news discussing this topic: 1)  Jeffrey Schwartz et al, stating first that child sacrifice did not occur in Carthage, and then, following a reexamination, deciding that the evidence was inconclusive; 2) P. Smith et al, who determined that there is strong evidence to suggest child sacrifice; and, 3) Josephine Quinn et al, who feel that there is ample evidence for child sacrifice in ancient Carthage.

Of them, Lancel, Quinn et al, and Smith et al agree that there is substantial evidence for child sacrifice, with some caveats. Schwartz et al were initially convinced that the evidence was scant at best and that no child sacrifice occurred there (2010 article), and then reconsidered and summarized that “the verdict on the Phoenician practice of child sacrifice is, at best, not proven” (2012 article). There are undoubtedly many more archaeologists and scholars who fall into one or the other camp. I am focusing on the four that were originally discussed in the Biblical Archaeology article from last week.

The archaeological evidence, albeit evidence that can be considered inconclusive, suggests that infant sacrifice did indeed go on in Carthage. Lancel attends to the salacious nature of the act but does not discount it purely because it may be distasteful to modern scholars. As Dr. Josephine Quinn of Oxford University comments: “Dismissing the idea of child sacrifice stops us seeing the bigger picture.”

And herein lies the rub. The bigger picture – that of the ongoing interpretation of archaeological evidence for the last hundred years of a site that is nearly 3,000 years old – goes to show how, with time, techniques, and new information, material culture can be seen in a myriad of different ways. This is great! I love debates like this, where people work with conclusions published decades ago and with the considerations of the present day. Interpreting the ancient world will always be, on one level or another, subjective (no matter how much we might try to keep our biases in check), and so ancient history will always be part of modern culture and society.

However, when it is that modern society that first rejects, then confirms, then suggests that a part of history so not in keeping with modern sensibilities simply couldn’t happen, or only happened in a culture considered the ‘other’, this I find frustrating. Yes, human culture – past and present (and some would also argue future) – affects us all, but ignoring the fact that history was brutal, cruel, and incongruous to some is a travesty. What we’re talking about here is our connection with the past, our very ability to do so, and to disregard historical evidence for modern reasons is not only unprofessional, it lacks empathy.

I feel the prescience of a comment of Lancel’s, meant to consider the logistics of excavation, that also speak to the interpretations that have coloured this debate for a century:

“…in Carthage the most frequent archaeological situation, far from presenting the elevations of structures and walls, is to show negatives, not only of those walls but even of their foundations, picked away stone by stone throughout the ages, right up to the present…” (Lancel, p.40).

Reverse images, negatives, our ability to guess at what’s missing as well as interpret what’s there, is the joy of archaeology and of historical research. Our ability to empathize is what adds joy to this work, and to the discoveries and debates within it. Ignoring or dismissing something that is not part of our culture means we lose a vital piece of it; our willingness to imagine.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Did the Carthaginians Really Practice Infant Sacrifice?” by Robin Ngo, Biblical Archaeology Online. 02/05/2014, http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/did-the-carthaginians-really-practice-infant-sacrifice/

– accessed July 15th, 2015 at 12:22pm EST

“Skeletal Remains of Punic Carthage Do Not Support Systematic Sacrifice of Infants” by Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Frank Houghton, Roberto Macchiarelli, and Luca Bondioli. Feb 17th, 2010. PLOS ONE. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0009177

– accessed July 15th, 2015 at 12:37pm EST

“Ancient Carthaginians Really Did Sacrifice Their Children”, Oxford University Press Online. 23 Jan 2014. http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2014-01-23-ancient-carthaginians-really-did-sacrifice-their-children#

– accessed July 15th, 2015 at 12:28pm EST

“Carthaginians Sacrificed Own Children, Archaeologists Say” by Maev Kennedy. The Guardian Online. 21 Jan 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jan/21/carthaginians-sacrificed-own-children-study

– accessed July 15th, 2015 at 21:06pm EST

“Bones, Teeth, and Estimating Age of Perinates: Carthaginian Infant Sacrifice Revisited” by J.H. Schwartz, F.D. Houghton, L. Bondioli, and R. Macchiarelli. Cambridge Journals Online. Vol. 86, Issue 333. January 2012. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9423531&fileId=S0003598X00047888

– accessed July 15th, 2015 at 21:07pm EST

“Aging Cremated Infants: The Problem of Sacrifice at the Tophet of Carthage” by P. Smith, G. Avishai, J.A. Greene, and L.E. Stager. Cambridge Journals Online. Vol 85, Issue 329. January 2011. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9431326&fileId=S0003598X00068368

– accessed July 18th, 2015 at 13:30pm EST

Lancel, Serge (trans. Antonia Neville). Carthage. 1995, p.40, 227 ff

The Roundup #4

What a week this has been. We lost Omar Sharif and Roger Rees, the 2015 PanAm Games got underway in Toronto, Champagne was made part of UNESCO World Heritage, and we received the best pictures yet from the New Horizons satellite on its way to Pluto. Here’s all the things that happened before that we’re just finding out about again:

From Archaeology.org:

A beautiful series of fresco fragments have been discovered in Arles, France, the first such pieces to be found outside Italy.

The bones of 27 US Marines will finally be laid to rest more than 70 years after they died during the Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific during World War II.

The dates for prehistoric man in Scotland have been extended back to 8,000 years, approximately a thousand years earlier than previous evidence had suggested.

A Viking longhouse has been found in Reikjavic, Iceland, to the excitement of archaeologists everywhere.

A new theory about the attic of the Parthenon in Athens has been released, suggesting that the wealth of nations was once stored there.

Analysis of ice core samples from Greenland and Antarctica suggest that a pair of volcanic eruptions may have been responsible for widespread disease and famine in the sixth century, rewriting climate history in Europe for this period. This has also been covered by the Smithsonian.

Archaeologists have unearthed gold spirals in Zealand (in Denmark, not in the Pacific), which had multiple uses and are generally quite lovely to look at.

At the site of Oinoanda in Turkey, a massive stone inscription by Diogenes, who was a student of the Epicurean school of philosophical thought, was discovered towards the end of the 19th century and is part of a new study of the area. Included in the text is the following excerpt:

Not least for those who are called foreigners, for they are not foreigners. For, while the various segments of the Earth give different people a different country, the whole compass of this world gives all people a single country, the entire Earth, and a single home, the world.  

And excavations of the permanent HQ of the Sixth Legion are underway in Israel.

From Biblical Archaeology:

Yet more discussion on whether or not Carthaginians practiced human sacrifice of infants.

The discussion also continues on who built the Cardo in Jerusalem, the two main suspects being the Roman Emperors Hadrian and Justinian I.

And an oil lamp workshop has been discovered in the Galilee.

In Popular Archaeology:

A Roman legionary’s bootprint has been discovered, also in the Galilee in Israel.

And from JSTOR Daily:

New evidence about the colour of dinosaur eggs.

The Roundup #2

A day late but hopefully not a dollar short (unless you’re the Greek government), here’s the second installation of my weekly roundup.

My favourite has to be the discovery of a piece of marble depicting a dolphin in Israel. Running in close second is this article on weapons of mass destruction from the Ancient world.

Archaeology.org was at the top of their game, news-wise this week:

A wreck off the coast of Italy has been discovered, heavily laden with Roman roof tiles still packed tightly in the hold of the ship.

Archaeologists theorize that two graves from a Greek settlement that seemed ‘peculiar’ are actually zombie burials.

Archaeological work at the Antikythera site will be funded for another five years, a triumph in an age of such austerity.

A bronze age settlement in England that appears to have been destroyed by fire will also continue to be excavated.

And the former home of Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine Days Queen, is yielding a trove of artefacts from across the ages.

From the Smithsonian:

Recycling makes for delightful finds as one art lover discovered after purchasing what he thought were two pastels by French Impressionist Claude Monet.

And a Peruvian road regularly travelled is still a wonder to those who set foot on it.

From Biblical Archaeology:

Take a look at the toolkit of one of the archaeologists excavating at Huqoq.

 

The eeriest piece of the week has to be this one from the Guardian detailing the largest single collection of Nazi memorabilia in the world, tucked away in Leicestershire.

And more sad news from Palmyra as the destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage Site by the Islamic State continues.

The Roundup #1

In my first attempt at a regular posted series, and because I’ve now had a least two people tell me how much they enjoy the archaeology articles that I regularly post on Facebook, here is my first Roundup for the week of June 15th to 19th, 2015.

My favourite of the week has got to be the Spartan invasion of the London Underground.

From the Telegraph UK:

Our hopes that Palymra had avoided the destruction wrought by ISIS/ISIL on Nimrud and Hatra have been dashed…to pieces.

From the Smithsonian:

Following the filming of a documentary for PBS, Providence Pictures donated a most interesting contraption to the Colosseum in Rome, complete with revealing wolf!

Despite at least once notable typo, the Smithsonian delves into the world of Proto-Indo-European and show how a single ancient language group affects billions of people worldwide.

Arsonists have destroyed artefacts from the site of Tel Kishon in Israel. Yes, fire still wrecks things, even old things.

And a stunning, creative endeavour by two documentarians from China at the site where the Buddha statues in Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

From Archaeology.org:

Gladiators etched in stone from the ancient Greek city of Aphrodisias. I’m such a sucker for gladiatorial imagery.

Bulgarian officials have confiscated a series of silver coins, some bearing the image of King Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) at Sofia International Airport. Well done, Bulgaria!

Evidence of the Biblical king Eshba’al is discovered on a 3,000 year old jar in the Valley of Elah.

Dog mummies abound in the catacombs of Saqqara near the temple of Anubis.

And JSTOR Daily’s latest:

The forgotten pyramids of Sudan.