Lost Souls (The Punic Series Book 1)

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It would seem that these imitation sea shells were Egyptian imports. Some imports, including the strawberry top shell Clanculus pharaonius 51 and the panther cowrie Cypraea pantherina are native to the region of the Red Sea. Unlike regions located at a distance from the sea and other large bodies of water and where sea shells would not have been a common sight and therefore those found in burials could have been considered exotica, imported shells found in Carthaginian burials might have been treasured possessions or heirlooms belonging to the deceased. Similar explanations have been used to understand the presence of other objects in burials.

Because these molluscs originated from the sea, they are symbols of its existence and of its fertility. The wealth of Phoenician cities in the Levant was directly associated with their relationship with the sea. Purple dye, shipbuilding, and fishing stand amongst some of their more successful enterprises, but they are perhaps best known, first for their involvement in maritime trade and their desperate search for precious metals and then for their western colonisation movement to secure their trade routes.

Numerous ancient literary texts mention or discuss Phoenician trading ventures and their manufacture of luxury goods. Later, after the foundation of Carthage, the city established itself as a true maritime empire by building a powerful navy and undertaking its own colonisation programme to gain access once again to trade routes and valuable commodities. Carthaginian funerary offerings have been placed into different categories that provided the deceased or Nephest with certain benefits and sometimes the same objects appeared in several categories and thus served more than one purpose and the same can also be said about sea shells.

The following is an examination of these sea shells and their placement into some of these different categories. Ultimately, can these sea shells shed more light on the Carthaginians themselves? For instance, shells that were mixed with other faunal remains and later unearthed from rubbish layers in settlement contexts suggest their usage for nourishment. Studies carried out on faunal remains from the recently excavated Hamburg housing quarter figure 1 , situated along the coastal plain in Carthage, showed that the residents there were in part reliant on the sea for their nutritional requirements.

Some originated from shallow waters and others came from deeper waters where their collection would have likely occurred during other fishing activities. Burials contained fish and animal bones, in addition to liquids such as wine, and baskets containing fruit and vegetables.

Yet the presence in burials of bones, devoid of meat which had long since rotted away , is most easily explained as food residue. Certainly some sea shells found in burials could thus be similarly interpreted.

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Several types of molluscs recorded by Pallary in his publication on shells from burials are indeed edible and are consumed by people today. For instance, limpets and cockles were found in the Hamburg housing quarter and used as offerings in some burials. In burials, these often appeared unaltered and thus may have served as receptacles, but as they appear like other fish and animal bones the flesh having rotted away leaving behind only bones , there is no reason to discount the possibility of their purpose as sustenance for the deceased or Nephest.

The same is true about cockles, which are still commonly eaten bivalve molluscs. Nonetheless, they served to represent actual food offerings and importantly, they represented the kinds of food likely consumed by Carthaginians. In this capacity, so too could sea shells. The shells that were not water worn from burials, regardless of whether or not they had been transformed into different objects to serve different purposes, were probably collected during regular fishing activities at the same time as the molluscs that were destined for the dinner table or used for other purposes, since they were probably alive when caught.

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By including sea shells as symbols for sustenance in their burials, the Carthaginians were demonstrating their reliance on the sea as a source for food, as well as ensuring the continuation of their close relationship with the sea and, most importantly, ensuring their dependence on its fruits, for sustenance, in the afterlife. Another type of artisanal activity for which both the Phoenicians and Carthaginians were known, which was associated with purple dyeing, was textile making. Naturally, the vast majority of these textiles no longer exists but the Greek literary sources do inform us about this Carthaginian industry.

Spindles and reeds made of bone, ivory, and wood and associated with spinning were found in numerous burials. Unfortunately, evidence for fulling and dyeing in Punic Carthage is slight.

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The ingredients used for making dyes were largely organic and would not have survived and one would expect to find large vats or tubs and water channels in which the materials would have been treated. There is, however, one type of dye for which there is some evidence, in Carthage, of its production and which is synonymous with both the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians: purple dye made from crushed Murex shells. Information on how the Phoenicians produced their famous purple dye comes, perhaps most famously, from Pliny the Elder.

This refuse would then have been recycled for use in other industries. There are no known large piles of crushed Murex shells from the Punic period in Carthage. Here, a series of basins, cisterns, and channels, as well as a large layer of Murex brandaris shells indicated that purple dye was made here until the 3 rd century. Women were usually attributed the more traditional roles of spinning and weaving. These activities, which are considered mundane and repetitive and do not require deep levels of concentration, would have allowed women to perform other tasks, such as looking after children, at the same time.

Some elements of textile making can also fall under the category of inappropriate activities for women: dye production, which often necessitates tools including pounders and grinders, large quantities of water, heat sources, vats, tubs, and large quantities of varying ingredients for making dyes, some of which could be hazardous and could produce harmful fumes.

As these elements combine to create an environment that would not have been suitable for children and perhaps even detrimental to the development of foetuses, 78 it is usually assumed that the production of dyes for textiles would have been mainly carried out by men. Indeed, there is some evidence at Carthage pointing towards the involvement of men in the production of some dyes as well as in weaving and fulling activities.


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One Punic inscription found in a funerary context identified a man, presumably the deceased, as a weaver. An inscription on the jug provided a name that presumably identified the deceased. Since Murex dye had to be used immediately after it was produced, the presence of the dye workshop at the Kram presupposes the presence of a textile workshop close by.

There is little evidence, however, to support the notion that women in antiquity were directly involved in dyeing. Elizabeth Barber discusses the role of women in the dyeing of cloth by interpreting a Minoan fresco as having a close connection to a specific yellow dye. Saffron was not only used as a spice, but was and still is used as an appropriate remedy from menstrual cramps. Saffron is also the main ingredient for making a yellow dye. In ancient Greece, the colour yellow was specific to young women or maidens and so the scene in this fresco has been interpreted as a rite of passage into womanhood with a young veiled maiden as its central figure.

Barber also describes a process for dyeing yarn purple that is practiced today in Central America. According to Barber, oxidisation occurs through the combination of saltwater and sun, which then creates the purple dye. Yet the processes described constitute a very small production of the dye, suitable for personal use. Other funerary offerings have been similarly interpreted. Lancel noted the presence of several pieces of unworked bone and ivory in one burial on Byrsa Hill.

Lancel thus suggested that the deceased may have been a bone and ivory carver and these offerings would have permitted him to continue practicing his craft in the afterlife.


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In Carthage, molluscs were used to make dyes and formed part of the local diet. Sea shells had decorative and industrial purposes as well. They were used as pendants for necklaces, some were transformed into decorative containers, others as valuable ingredients for making stucco, and yet others to make stronger metals. It is unsurprising then to also find sea shells in funerary contexts. We have very few written sources and the archaeology is lacking and largely funerary. We are further hampered by the lack of information provided by archaeologists, who focussed their attention on things that were of interest for themselves.

Far too frequently, these excavators saw very little in sea shells as offerings and consequently wrote very little about them. As food offerings, these molluscs served to nourish the deceased or Nephest in much the same way that other meat and fruit offerings did. It is entirely possible that sea shells had also served a number of other uses as well. One thing that does seem clear, however, is that the inclusion of sea shells in Carthaginian burials, rather than simply illustrate the Phoenico-Punic adoption of an Egyptian ritual, demonstrates the Carthaginian practice of a specifically Phoenician custom.

Acquaro , E. Annabi , M. Andrews , C. Faulkner, London. Astruc , M. Aubet , M. Aynard , J. Barber , E. BArber , E. Ben Abdallah , Z. Ben Abed Ben Khader , A. Boucher - Colozier , E. Chelbi , F. Cintas , P. Manuel de recherche , Leiden, p. Dayagi - Mendels , M.

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The Ben-Dor Excavations , , Jerusalem. Delattre , A. Janvier , Extrait du Cosmos , Paris. LXXIV, p. Docter , R. Doumet , J. Dussaud , R. Fantar , M. Frendo , A. Marsala-Palermo, ottobre , Palermo, p. Gaillard , M.

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