Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sanctuary of Tophet,Tunisia

The Sanctuary of Tophet holds the remains of a vast number of children’s graves dating back to the Punic period of Carthage. Many historians have speculated that the Carthaginians practised child-sacrifice during times of serious hardship, though this point is hotly disputed. Today this eerie site can be found near the Punic Port and the Sanctuary of Tophet also contains a Roman necropolis.

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"Tophet" is a term derived from the Bible, used to refer to a site near Jerusalem in which Canaanites and Israelites sacrificed children. It is now used as a general term for all such sites with cremated human and animal remains. The Hebrew Bible does not specify that the Israelite victims were buried, only burned, although the "place of burning" was probably adjacent to the place of burial. We have no idea how the Phoenicians themselves referred to the places of burning or burial, or to the practice itself.

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Several apparent "Tophets" have been identified, chiefly a large one in Carthage, dubbed the "Tophet of Salammbó", after the neighbourhood where it was unearthed in 1921. Soil in the Tophet of Salammbó was found to be full of olive wood charcoal, probably from the sacrificial pyres. It was the location of the temple of the goddess Tanit and the necropolis. Animal remains, mostly sheep and goats, found inside some of the Tophet urns strongly suggest that this was not a burial ground for children who died prematurely. The animals were sacrificed to the gods, presumably in place of children (one surviving inscription refers to the animal as "a substitute"). It is conjectured that the children unlucky enough not to have substitutes were also sacrificed and then buried in the Tophet. The remains include the bodies of both very young children and small animals, and those who argue in favor of child sacrifice have argued that if the animals were sacrificed then so too were the children.The area covered by the Tophet in Carthage was probably over an acre and a half by the fourth century BCE,[16] with nine different levels of burials. About 20,000 urns were deposited between 400 BCE and 200 BCE, with the practice continuing until the early years of the Christian period. The urns contained the charred bones of newborns and in some cases the bones of fetuses and 2-year-olds. These double remains have been interpreted to mean that in the cases of stillborn babies, the parents would sacrifice their youngest child.

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There is a clear correlation between the frequency of deposition of child remains and the well-being of the city. In bad times (war, poor harvests) sacrifices may have become more frequent, indicating an increased assiduousness in seeking divine appeasement, or possibly a population-controlling response to the reduction of available food,or perhaps increased child mortality due to famine or disease.

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