Washington: A new study by University of Pittsburgh researchers has debunked the millennia-old conjecture that the ancient empire of Carthage regularly sacrificed its youngest citizens.
An examination of the remains of Carthaginian children revealed that most infants perished prenatally or very shortly after birth and were unlikely to have lived long enough to be sacrificed.
The findings—based on the first published analysis of the skeletal remains found in Carthaginian burial urns—refute claims from as early as the 3rd century BCE of systematic infant sacrifice at Carthage that remain a subject of debate among biblical scholars and archaeologists, according to lead researcher Jeffrey H. Schwartz, a professor of anthropology and history and philosophy of science in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences.
Schwartz and his colleagues present the more benign interpretation that very young Punic children were cremated and interred in burial urns regardless of how they died.
“The idea of regular infant sacrifice in Carthage is not based on a study of the cremated remains, but on instances of human sacrifice reported by a few ancient chroniclers, inferred from ambiguous Carthaginian inscriptions, and referenced in the Old Testament,” he said.
“Our results show that some children were sacrificed, but they contradict the conclusion that Carthaginians were a brutal bunch who regularly sacrificed their own children,” he added.
Schwartz and his coauthors tested the all-sacrifice claim by examining the skeletal remains from 348 urns for developmental markers that would determine the children’s age at death.
The team recorded skull, hip, long bone, and tooth measurements that indicated most of the children died in their first year with a sizeable number aged only two to five months, and that at least 20 percent of the sample was prenatal.
The researchers then selected teeth from 50 individuals they concluded had died before or shortly after birth and sent them to Roberto Macchiarelli of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and Luca Bondioli of the National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome, who examined the samples for a neonatal line.
This opaque band forms in human teeth between the interruption of enamel production at birth and its resumption within two weeks of life.
Identification of this line is commonly used to determine an infant``s age at death.
Macchiarelli and Bondioli found a neonatal line in the teeth of 24 individuals, meaning that the remaining 26 individuals died prenatally or within two weeks of birth, the researchers reported.
The contents of the urns also dispel the possibility of mass infant sacrifice.
No urn contained enough skeletal material to suggest the presence of more than two complete individuals.