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date: 18 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter introduces the major debates surrounding a type of archaeological site conventionally called a “tophet.” While study of these sites has continued almost unabated for the last hundred years, two major developments—apart from postcolonialism spurring efforts to reject child sacrifice as an Orientalist fantasy—necessitate a comprehensive analysis. The first is the availability of new archaeological data that has been carefully collected and analyzed by interdisciplinary teams. The results of the ASOR excavations at Salammbô (1976–1979) are reaching publication, and a host of first-century bce tophets have been excavated in Tunisia in the past three decades. Given the late date of many of these new finds, the second development is renewed interest in Hellenistic/Roman tophets that had not been examined systematically since Marcel Le Glay’s Saturne africain. After introducing the archaeological traits of these sites and reconstructing the ritualized practice that resulted in such site formation, the author explores key questions about the nature of these sites (whether they represent child sacrifice, and in what form), the origin of the rites, and their apparent persistence into the Roman Empire (and eventual end). The central argument here is that there was not one monolithic tophet phenomenon but, rather, a range of practices that must be localized and historicized.

Keywords: tophet, human sacrifice, religion, infant mortality, mlk/molk sacrifice, archaeology of ritual, infanticide

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