Monday, November 28, 2016

Ancient Jewish bones in Malta?

ARCHAEOLOGY: ‘Beautiful skulls’ in tombs from 2,000 years ago (Ivan Martin, Times of Malta).
A small tooth is almost all that remains of a 2,000-year-old baby discovered in an ancient burial site beneath a Rabat school.

The series of catacombs, discovered during works to extend the playing fields of the St Paul’s Missionary College, also revealed the remains of “at least eight” ancient island dwellers, decorative pottery – and new clues to unlocking the secrets of Malta’s past.

“The area around Rabat is rich with remains. These tombs are the latest discovery we have made, with some interesting contents,” Anthony Pace, the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, told The Sunday Times of Malta.

The site is open to the public today, and visitors can view the artefacts and even the human bones discovered there, previously unseen for thousands of years. Superintendence officials will guide the public around the site, briefing them on its contents.


So who were these ancient people? Dr Pace shied away from calling them Maltese.

“‘Malteseness’ as we know it today is a relatively new invention. Malta would have been home to moving people from the Mediterranean, it would have also had settlers, and they would have considered themselves part of the empire, in this case, the Roman Empire,” he said.

It was nearly impossible, he added, to place a precise date on the burial sites, but the contents and the location indicated they were probably from a time when Malta was transitioning between Carthaginian colony to Roman – a time, he said, when a strong Jewish community was present on the island, along with merchants and colonial settlers.

“These sites help us piece together that history, a time that we don’t know enough about,” Dr Pace said.
The next step is laboratory analysis of the human remains, which may in due course tell us more about who they were.

UPDATE: A recent past post on Jewish history in Malta is here. And an earlier story on ancient Jewish bones found in Malta, possibly a different discovery from a later period, is noted here, here, and here.