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Skeletal remains from punic carthage do not support systematic sacrifice of infants

Schwartz, JH and Houghton, F and Macchiarelli, R and Bondioli, L (2010) Skeletal remains from punic carthage do not support systematic sacrifice of infants. PLoS ONE, 5 (2).

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Two types of cemeteries occur at Punic Carthage and other Carthaginian settlements: one centrally situated housing the remains of older children through adults, and another at the periphery of the settlement (the "Tophet") yielding small urns containing the cremated skeletal remains of very young animals and humans, sometimes comingled. Although the absence of the youngest humans at the primary cemeteries is unusual and worthy of discussion, debate has focused on the significance of Tophets, especially at Carthage, as burial grounds for the young. One interpretation, based on two supposed eye-witness reports of large-scale Carthaginian infant sacrifice [Kleitarchos (3rd c. BCE) and Diodorus Siculus (1st c. BCE)], a particular translation of inscriptions on some burial monuments, and the argument that if the animals had been sacrificed so too were the humans, is that Tophets represent burial grounds reserved for sacrificial victims. An alternative hypothesis acknowledges that while the Carthaginians may have occasionally sacrificed humans, as did their contemporaries, the extreme youth of Tophet individuals suggests these cemeteries were not only for the sacrificed, but also for the very young, however they died. Here we present the first rigorous analysis of the largest sample of cremated human skeletal remains (348 burial urns, N = 540 individuals) from the Carthaginian Tophet based on tooth formation, enamel histology, cranial and postcranial metrics, and the potential effects of heat-induced bone shrinkage. Most of the sample fell within the period prenatal to 5-to-6 postnatal months, with a significant presence of prenates. Rather than indicating sacrifice as the agent of death, this age distribution is consistent with modern-day data on perinatal mortality, which at Carthage would also have been exacerbated by numerous diseases common in other major cities, such as Rome and Pompeii. Our diverse approaches to analyzing the cremated human remains from Carthage strongly support the conclusion that Tophets were cemeteries for those who died shortly before or after birth, regardless of the cause. © 2010 Schwartz et al.


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Item Type: Article
Status: Published
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Schwartz, JHjhs@pitt.eduJHS
Houghton, F
Macchiarelli, R
Bondioli, L
ContributionContributors NameEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Date: 17 February 2010
Date Type: Publication
Journal or Publication Title: PLoS ONE
Volume: 5
Number: 2
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009177
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History and Philosophy of Science
Refereed: Yes
MeSH Headings: Age Determination by Skeleton; Age Determination by Teeth; Age Distribution; Animals; Archaeology; Bone and Bones--anatomy & histology; Cause of Death; Cemeteries--history; Child; Child, Preschool; Female; Fossils; History, Ancient; Humans; Ilium--anatomy & histology; Infant; Male; Tooth--anatomy & histology
Other ID: NLM PMC2822869
PubMed Central ID: PMC2822869
PubMed ID: 20174667
Date Deposited: 03 Aug 2012 18:37
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2021 13:55


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