Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Magnificent Pagan Altar Unearthed in Israel

Workers on a hospital construction project in Ashkelon, Israel, have discovered an ancient pagan burial field dating to the Roman period of the 1st/2nd centuries CE (or AD, as I was taught in school).

Under the supervision of the Israel Antiquities Authority, numerous family and individual burial structures have been unearthed. One of the tombs contained a large limestone sarcophagus with a decorated lid, with an unusual interior pillow-effect where the stone at one end was left slightly raised in the spot where the head of the deceased was to rest.

Perhaps the most exciting find, though, is a magnificent pagan altar made of granite, decorated with bulls’ heads and laurel wreaths adorned with grape leaves and clusters of fruit. Although incense altars usually stood in Roman temples, this one stood in the center of the ancient burial field. It was used for burning incense, particularly myrrh and frankincense, while praying to the gods. The resulting burn marks remain visible, despite the altar having been buried for almost 2,000 years.

I wonder if building contractors in lands with long histories eventually become inured to archeological delays on their projects?

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