Who Wants an Ancient Jar of Baby? (ca. 2nd C AD)

By: The Scribe on Friday, November 30, 2007

A glass jar with the ashes of a baby was found at the Syrian site of Palmyra, a trading and caravan center in the ancient Near East.]

Amongst the ruins of the ancient Syrian site of Palmyra, archaeologists came across an ancient glass jar which held some rather curious contents: the ashes of a baby. This kind of item had never been found before, and the discovery indicates that there were different funerary practices at this important city than had been previously assumed.

The jar was found in an ancient cemetery inside of the city, and the diameter measured approximately 24cm x 18cm (9.5in x 7in) – with the cremated remains resting inside. Other items found within the cemetery were things like small pieces of furniture, lamps, pottery, and even small, glass vials that mourners could place their tears inside and then leave the vials at the gravesite.

While further studies on the baby’s remains are pending, it would be very important to learn about new funerary practices at Palmyra. The city is located about 240 kilometers away from the Syrian capital, Damascus, and rose to prominence through its location along the primary caravan route through Mesopotamia. Traders and travelers from all across the world came through Palmyra, and the city later became the center of an Arab client state to the Roman Empire.

Since cremation of infant remains had not otherwise been known to exist as a regular funerary practice in Palmyra, it is possible that the child belonged to someone moving through the city and who simply felt the need to conform to their own traditions – or perhaps this new method of burial developed under Roman rule, which means that other jars of baby ashes might turn up once the cemetery is more fully excavated.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: Ancient Blood Sculptures


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