Archive for October 14th, 2008

Pagan/Christian tomb found inside Roman villa

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Romans buried their dead outside the city walls, traditionally, or inside a church. A 6th c. tomb in the middle of someone’s house is pretty much unheard of.

That’s not all that’s unusual about this find.

Two skeletons were found. One was of a woman between the ages of 25 and 30, with teeth in excellent condition and no signs of arthritis. […]

The other skeleton was a child of indeterminate sex between the ages of five and seven. The position of their bones showed that the woman had been laid to rest first. The tomb was then re-opened to bury the child and the woman’s spinal column was pushed to one side. A hole in the stone slab covering the tomb allowed visitors to pour libations for the dead.

“This shows that the long-established, originally pagan, rite of offering libations to the dead clearly continued into early Byzantine times,” observes Wilson.

Yet, the presence of a Christian cross on a lamp found in the room and on the underside of a grave slab suggests that the deceased were Christian. As well, the skeletons were wrapped in plaster, a practice believed to be Christian for preserving the body for resurrection.

This is the earliest plaster burial found on Sicily.

The tomb was disturbed at least once more, possibly by thieves, although whoever tidied up before they left.

Excavators have found all kinds of food preparation areas, amphorae, stemware. It’s almost like a butler’s pantry. People were clearly stocked up for long-term libation which makes this tomb a glimpse into a fascinating transitional moment as well as an interesting anomaly on its own.

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