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Rackham Centennial Lecture: "On the Menu at the Graveside: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Funerary Offerings in the Cemeteries of Leptiminus (Lamta, Tunisia)"

Thursday, October 18, 2012
12:00 AM
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, 434 South State Street, Ann Arbor

Textual sources, inscriptions, and ancient images all indicate that dining and food offerings for the dead were an important element in funerals and commemoration. These discussions are usually unspecific about “menus,” however, and archaeological evidence of actual food remains has often been sparser still. Thus, during recent excavations (2004–2006) at the East Cemetery of Leptiminus (Lamta, Tunisia), an important focus of the project was to collect physical evidence of food remains, namely bones, seeds, and residues. Finds related to food preparation and certain architectural features (particularly libation tubes and offering tables) provide further insight.

Analysis of results indicates change over time and a regional signature to the types of offerings. Cremations (2nd and 3rd centuries CE) were fueled by cones and wood from pine trees, which are associated with immortality and the god Saturn. Ceramic libation tubes contained residues showing that oily substances were inserted after burial directly into the vessels holding the cremated remains. Inhumation graves (3rd–5th centuries CE) yielded less direct evidence for food offered during interment, though there is evidence for food preparation outside the tomb. Food vessels and lamps suggest continued dining in the Christian catacombs (4th–5th centuries CE).

Sponsored by the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Lea Stirling, University of Manitoba