- Mortuary Landscapes of North Africa
This year (2009) marks the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of C.W. Ceram's classic popular history of archaeology, Gods, Graves and Scholars. Since Ceram's day, the science of archaeology has come a long way and the once crude process of digging up graves has evolved into the mature science of mortuary archaeology - a distinct branch of archaeological study involving a variety of skills ranging from digital mapping to osteological analysis. The state of the modern science of mortuary archaeology is well represented by this collaborative volume, which focuses on archaeological work, a good deal of it by Canadian archaeologists, done in recent years at cemetery sites in North Africa. Much of this work is synthetic, drawing on archaeological finds from across a broad geographical area, mainly central North Africa (Tunisia) and to a lesser extent Algeria and Libya. The papers include new studies of various types of tombs and tomb architecture, in some cases pre-Roman (Habib Ben Younes on Punic shaft tombs, David Stone on rock-cut chamber tombs or 'haouanet'), in other cases Roman (Lea Stirling on cupula tombs, Jennifer Moore on the 'mausoleum culture' of Africa Proconsularis), and new assessments of burial practices in specific contexts and locations (Anna Leone on cemeteries and urban space, especially at Carthage, David Mattingly on the mortuary archaeology of the Garamantes in southern Libya). In the final chapter Michael MacKinnon looks beyond mortuary archaeology as simply a study of tombs and burial sites and asks what the science has taught us about the human populations of early North Africa. MacKinnon's critical survey of the historical development and changing emphasis of osteological research in early North Africa is an undoubted highlight of the volume.
The history of North Africa in antiquity is defined by a series of major political and cultural shifts: the arrival of Phoenician settlers, the imposition of Roman colonies, the invasion of Vandal armies. The way these changes affected the mortuary landscape of North Africa is one of the [End Page 345] unifying themes of this book. Different styles of funerary architecture, different methods of disposal of the dead, and different ideas of funerary ritual are all assessed here against a background of constant cultural change and ongoing tensions between native tradition and foreign influence. The mortuary landscape of North Africa is revealed ultimately as a complex and shifting landscape in which burial practices varied considerably by region and historical period. Throughout the book the attention to scholarly detail is impressive. Without exception these are well-written and well-documented papers that provide the reader with a good sense of the history of scholarship on early North African tombs and burial practices and of the important changes in direction that this scholarship has taken in recent years. While the papers often look back to past scholarship, they also look forward to future research. In every case the authors not only bring new evidence into the discussion but also ask new questions about the old evidence and suggest new ways in which the evidence can be approached.
Given the disparate research interests of the individual authors, the editors of the volume have done a commendable job in shaping the papers into a single coherent volume. The high quality of the volume owes much to the well-crafted introduction, which provides a lucid summary of more than a century of mortuary archaeology in North Africa and places the papers in a sound scholarly context. The introduction also clearly identifies the major theoretical issues with which mortuary studies are currently engaged and highlights the changing nature of mortuary research in North Africa. This places the volume at the forefront of current developments in mortuary archaeology and ensures its value to a wide range of researchers working in cemetery archaeology not just in early North Africa but in other parts of the ancient world.
Jeremy Rossiter, University of Alberta