The art of the catacombs was born in Rome between the second and third centuries and is manifested especially in the pictorial decorations of the cubicula and other hypogeal environments. The extremely simplified artistic typology echoes the Second Pompeian style through the use of red and green lines that run across the walls and the faces of the monuments. Initially this grid contained neutral figures selected from the pagan repertoire; later those images were replaced by Christian scenes inspired by biblical and salvific imagery. The art of the catacombs also includes funerary sculpture, particularly sarcophagi, and the so-called minor arts, such as gilded glass, ivory dolls, and mosaic tesserae. The catacombal decorations ended at the beginning of the fifth century, when funerary use ceased in these subterranean cemeteries.
Sherry C. Fox and Paraskevi Tritsaroli
This chapter examines the contribution of the contextual study of human skeletal remains of Early Christian burials in the eastern Mediterranean. Bioarchaeological studies of sites in Greece, Cyprus, Asia Minor, and Palestine are presented to better understand the people and their burial practices from this region during a tumultuous period in the fourth through seventh centuries. The use of multiple lines of evidence such as funerary archaeology, taphonomy, and skeletal biology reveals the lifestyles and burial customs of the inhabitants from a selection of eastern Mediterranean sites. Despite regional variations, there is a great degree of uniformity in the burial customs across the areas under consideration. Finally, the populations of the eastern Mediterranean share similar demographic profiles and health outcomes. Future research will likely engage in scientific applications in archaeology that may address significant questions, such as reconstructing diet from stable isotope analyses and disease via ancient DNA analysis.
Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai
The Roman catacombs, dated to the early third century, are characterized by regular plans that made the best use of available space. In the late third and fourth centuries, the catacombs grew in number and extent through the establishment of new areas. Beginning in the fifth century, the Roman catacombs ceased to be the usual places of burial and become instead spaces dedicated to the cult of the martyrs. The catacombs of the Italian peninsula and the larger islands of the Mediterranean, Greece, and Roman Africa, dated usually between the fourth and fifth centuries, are fewer and smaller than those in Rome, but are distinct in their plans and adaptation to different environments.
While reports of child sacrifice in the ancient Andes are often sensationalized to captivate popular audiences, the study of the practice provides archaeologists with an important means of investigating power and sociopolitical dynamics in antiquity. This chapter discusses the significance of the terms ‘child’ and ‘sacrifice’ in the Andes and examines the evidence of child sacrifice from ancient contexts in Andean regions of modern-day Peru and Bolivia. It considers data on sacrificial practices from dives sources, such as descriptions in ethnohistorical documents, representations in architectural design and portable art, and direct evidence found in the archaeological record. Finally, various approaches to the study of these sacrifices and possible avenues for future analyses are outlined.
In ancient Greek thought, Hades constitutes, inter alia, the incarnation of the invisible— an apparent contradiction of efforts to represent the dark kingdom of the lord of dead. After a brief review of the special vocabulary, imagery, and connotations associated with darkness in poetic and philosophical thinking, this chapter investigates the main devices used in mythic narratives as well as in real religious topography to insinuate darkness and invisibility. An astute use of natural landscape features and architectural elements, such as natural or artificial chasms, narrow passages, cloudy atmosphere, shadowing, and reflective effects tries to anticipate the features of the Otherworld and/or to permit a protected, although slightly distorted, view of the unseeable. Particular emphasis is given to the role of caves and ever-flowing rivers and streams, but also of still water of pools and lakes, an element which acquires an increasing importance from the classical period onwards.
Death is a broader subject within the archaeology of ritual and religion than recognizable funerary rites. The intersect between death and belief has resulted in many of the most significant surviving ancient finds, sites, and monuments, such as the bog bodies of North-western Europe, the Shanidar Neanderthal interments, the pyramids of Egypt, and the tombs of Queen Puabi and of the first emperor of China. Many significant ritual sites have a death-related aspect, as loci of human killing and the deposition of remains (causewayed camps, central European Kreisgrabenanlagen, the Aztec temples) while others were designed for ritualized activities that, though not primarily describable as religious, adumbrated a cosmology of life and death (the Roman Colosseum). This article discusses the anthropology and sociology of death, funerary archaeology, physical death outside the valedictory and funerary contexts (ritual killing, human sacrifice, endo- and exo-cannibalism, etc.), and materiality approaches and evolutionary aspects.
Study of orientation in Bronze Age Cretan buildings has revealed long-overlooked sunrise alignments at the Palace of Knossos; while the recording of dawn alignments at the Mesara-type tholos tombs has challenged previous ideas about religious belief, suggesting a new, somatic agenda for discourse about ritual practices at the tombs. This chapter highlights a long-standing Aegean tradition from the Early Iron Age until late antiquity in which the sun was perceived as an active agent facilitating processes of prophecy and communication with the dead. Taking issue with disembodied visions of knowledge and presentist templates of religion centred on worship of abstract deities, it revisits material evidence from the Mesara-type tombs, and considers whether it is possible to trace in the prehistoric era early formulations of this tradition linking sunlight with divination and the dead.