Workers digging a trench for fiber optic internet cables in Sicily discover the remains of an ancient Greek necropolis and a ceramic jug with the remains of a newborn baby inside

  • Workers discovered more than 20 ancient Greek artifacts in Gela, Sicily
  • Researchers have begun excavating the site and believe it was a necropolis
  • They have discovered an adult corpse and a jug containing baby bones

Workers in Sicily digging a trench for fiber optic internet cables discovered an ancient Greek necropolis with a number of unusual objects, including a ceramic jug containing the remains of a newborn baby.

The discovery was made in Gela, a town on the southern coast of the Italian island, where more than 20 pieces of clayware and ceramics were discovered in what’s believed to have been a Greek necropolis.

The remains of the baby are perhaps the most mysterious, with its bones found in a hydria, a common style of jug with a wide bulbous body and a thin, tapered neck that was commonly used to carry water.

Workers digging a trench for fiber optic internet cables in the Sicilian town of Gela uncovered artifacts from what could have been an ancient Greek necropolis 

‘The newly-uncovered graves are seen as particularly important by historians as they’re thought to hold the remains of the first settlers along with examples of the fine ceramics they brought with them,’ according to a Newsweek translation of the local government’s announcement.

The findings are estimated to date back to between 700BC and 651BC, which would place them in the period after the ancient Greeks had colonized Sicily.

A number of other items were found at the site, including a Proto-Corinthian style cup that was used as part of a burial ceremony involving slaughtered and cooked animals. 

The remains of a preserved adult corpse was also found nearby.

Sicily was colonized by the Greeks in around 750BC, and has been home to a number of recent archaeological discoveries that point to the unique superstitions about death in Greek culture

It’s unclear why Greeks would have placed the remains of a baby in a jug, but past discoveries in the region have shown the Greeks had many strong beliefs and superstitions about death.

In 2015, researchers discovered a Greek burial site in Kamarina, a town about 20 miles away from Gela, with a number of adult and children’s remains buried under heavy stones that appeared to be used to weigh down or entrap the bodies.

The Greek necropolis was discovered on an ordinary work crew in the Sicilian town of Gela

CHILD SACRIFICE IN ANCIENT CARTHAGE

Carthaginian parents ritually sacrificed young children as an offering to the gods and laid them to rest in special infant burial grounds called tophets.

The practice could hold the key to why Ancient Carthage was founded in the first place.

Babies of just a few weeks old were sacrifice.

Dedications from the children’s parents to the gods are inscribed on slabs of stone above their cremated remains, ending with the explanation that the god or gods concerned had ‘heard my voice and blessed me’.

An Oxford University professor said that people might have sacrificed their children out of profound religious piety, or a sense that the good the sacrifice could bring the family or community as a whole outweighed the life of the child.

We think of human sacrifice as a terrible practice because we view it in modern terms, but people looked at it differently 2,500 years ago.

The backlash against the notion of Carthaginian child sacrifice began in the second half of the 20th century and was led by scholars from Tunisia and Italy – the very countries in which tophets have also been found.

It was first documented by Greek and Roman writers who seemed more interested than critical of the unusual practice.

‘Greeks imagined scenarios in which reanimated corpses rose from their graves, prowled the streets and stalked unsuspecting victims, often to exact retribution denied to them in life,’ archaeologist Carrie Sulosky Weaver wrote at the time.

‘Necrophobia, or the fear of the dead, is a concept that has been present in Greek culture from the Neolithic period to the present.’

Necropolis’s themselves may have been at least partially motivated by these fears, as enormous burial sites built far away from the everyday cities most people lived in.

In Carthage, a coastal town in Tunisia around 300 miles from Sicily, ruins have been discovered tombs containing the bodies of young children and babies that were just a few weeks old.

Some contend these were sites of ritual child sacrifice to honor or appease the gods, while others suggest the sites are just cemeteries where children that died of illness were honored.

‘Perhaps it was out of profound religious piety, or a sense that the good the sacrifice could bring the family or community as a whole outweighed the life of the child,’ Oxford University’s Dr. Josephine Quinn said of the burial sites in Carthage.

‘We have to remember the high level of mortality among children – it would have been sensible for parents not to get too attached to a child that might well not make its first birthday.’

‘We should not imagine that ancient people thought like us and were horrified by the same things.’

 

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