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Aug 22, 2018 24 tweets 12 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
This #ClassicalZooarchaeology thread is about ancient Greek sacrificial feasting. I want to focus on what the animal bones can add to our understanding of this important topic. While there are several good overviews of sacrifice in texts & art, bones offer new perspectives
Sacrificial ritual was associated with Greek polytheism, which was extremely diverse & constantly changing. So, sacrificial ritual was pretty diverse across time and space

If you want an intro to Greek polytheism, you can also check out the thread below
Instead of going into exceptional sacrifices (next month, I’ll do a thread on dog sacrifice when @ASCSAPubs publishes the Agora Bone Well), this thread focuses on the canonical bones burned for the gods. The advantage w/ this focus is it’s easy to combine texts, art, and bones
If you’ve read Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey, you know that Greek heroes liked to eat their meat. Before the feast, they’d burn the thighbones wrapped twice in fat for the gods

Odysseus brags “No human ever burned so many thigh-bones for the Lord of Thunder” transl. @EmilyRCWilson
Hesiod explains why: Prometheus tricked Zeus

P. sorted the parts of a slaughtered ox into 2 groups: the meat hidden in the ox’s stomach & the bones wrapped in “glistening fat”

Zeus chose the more appealing “glistening fat” over the unappealing stuffed stomach

Who wouldn’t?
Zeus was mighty pissed off when he saw he only got fat-wrapped bones

Hesiod concludes “Ever since that, the peoples on earth have burned white bones for the immortals on aromatic altars”

Greek vase paintings show this activity. The packet is likely fat-wrapped thighbones
But it wasn’t just thighbones that were burned. Most vase paintings show a curling tail on an altar

Aristophanes jokes about a curled tail as showing “favorable omens.” Experiments show the tail always curls as it contracts. So, every time you burn a tail, it’s good luck!
David Reese (1989) published a large group of burned hindquarters – mostly bones from tails, thighs & knees of sheep or goats – from the altar of Aphrodite Ourania in the Athenian Agora. Since then, zooarchaeologists have found similarly burned bones at Greek temples & altars
Kinda cool? Burned bones match ancient texts and art

But the texts and art that describe ancient sacrifice are only as old as when the Odyssey and Iliad were first written down (750ish BC). Zooarchaeology shows us that selected groups of burned bones (= sacrifice) are older
Earlier clay tablets in Linear B script (from 1200ish BC) record Bronze Age palatial feasts. The tablet below from Pylos lists a bull, 4 sheep, 100s of liters of wheat & wine, and smaller amounts of cheese & honey. Enough food “to feed over 1,000 people” (@DimitriNakassis)
These Linear B tablets don’t describe sacrificial ritual though

However, in the archives room of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos, Halstead et al, described a pit of burned bones from the thighs, forearms, and mandibles of at least 19 cattle and 1 red deer
Burned bones from earlier Bronze Age sites show lots of diversity. While burned thighbones & tails have been found at a few sanctuaries (including the ash altar of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion), at others (Eleusis and Ayios Konstantinos at Methana), the lower legs were burned
I’ve been tracing this pattern of burned lower leg bones (sometimes found w/ head bones) in my own research. I’ve encountered these body parts burned and found in discrete deposits at Halasmenos (12th c BC), Nichoria (9th c BC), Azoria (7th-5th c BC) & Athens (4th-2nd c BC)
There’s only one textual reference to this type of sacrifice. In the Hymn to Hermes, the trickster god steals a herd of cattle from the other gods. To appease them, he sets a feast for each god. And to clean up he “destroyed all the feet and heads with the fire’s blast”
As more animal bones are studied, I think we’ll see more diversity in sacrificial ritual across different settlements and temples. For example, at the shrine to the Hero Opheltes at Nemea (6th-5th c BC), only the thighbones from the left leg of sheep were burned
This summer, I studied a large group of bones (6th c BC) from the Temple of Zeus at Histria, Romania. None were burned, but there weren’t any thighbones. These bones likely were food waste from the sacrifice
The butchery marks on the bones show an efficient procedure. In one area of the sanctuary, the animals were slaughtered and the less meaty parts were thrown away. The carcass was dismembered into larger units with cleavers and then broken down into smaller units with knives
Many texts record that priests were also sacred butchers. Butchery patterns show that these priests were professional butchers, using an efficient system to prepare large-scale sacrificial feasts. Priests were often rewarded for their skill with cuts of meat or animal hides
I think of a sacrificial feast as a spectacle. It started with a parade of animals to be slaughtered at the altar. The flames quickly engulfed the bones wrapped in flammable fat. And then the barbecue or beef boil began, with the smell and taste of meat washed down in wine
The role of the priest was front and center, never far from the victim or the feast’s preparation. But these feasts didn’t only perpetuate the hierarchy, they also strengthened group bonds as everyone feasted together on a regular basis
So, as you enjoy your summer barbecues, don’t just pour out a cold one for the gods below, make sure to wrap a bone twice in fat and throw it on the coals. The gods above subsist on this fragrant smoke. Plus, if those coals are hot, I promise it’ll make for quite a show!
Thanks for reading along. If you liked it, please retweet!
I’ve collected all the references and credits to images and publications in the thread below

And if you want to read more about ancient animals, check out my archive of #ClassicalZooarchaeology threads below

For more on experimental studies of ancient sacrifice @ASCSAthens see "Burning Questions: An Investigation Into Ash Altars" by J. Morton and @diffendale


And also this awesome curling tail

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More from @FlintDibble

Oct 1, 2018
This #archaeology thread describes the “Agora Bone Well” published today by Maria Liston, Susan Rotroff & Lynn Snyder

Over 460 humans (mostly infants) & 150 dogs were thrown in the well. They tell a heartbreakingly vivid tale of all-too-ordinary life & death in ancient Athens
The well was excavated 80 yrs ago by Dorothy Burr Thompson and was located downtown in Hellenistic Athens. After the building on this plot of land was abandoned, the well became a convenient dumping spot

The bones & artifacts were thrown in the well between 175-150 BC
The well was cut thru bedrock & lined w/ clay tiles. Thompson wrote that bones first started appearing 13 meters down (42 feet). Skulls & bones became so common that at one point she simply wrote “more vile bones of dogs, etc.” Digging bones in a deep well wasn’t an easy job!
Read 33 tweets
Aug 23, 2018
A few thoughts about this Humanities article making the rounds

1) if declining humanities enrollments are due to misperception of low value, then WE need to do better job selling ourselves... #humcomm needs to be the new #scicomm

2) Humanities (and social sciences) departments need to reward public engagement that highlights the value and relevancy of our disciplines to modern society. We need to highlight to everyone what they can learn from our rigorous methods and nuanced approaches into humanity
3) Humanities departments need to adapt. The article points out that newer, identity related fields have been successful during this crisis (ethnic, gender, and cultural studies). These are still minor components of most traditional humanities departments' course offerings
Read 5 tweets
Jul 26, 2018
This thread is about archaeological artifacts and how we think about them. Heck the first step is to even figure out what to name them. I’m gonna pull out two examples: Athenian ceramic vessels and Paleolithic stone tools to think about “what’s in a name?”
Archaeologists have to deal with all kinds of artifacts. Usually they’re even just fragments of an artifact.

To be honest, a lot of times we can’t really identify these artifacts or how they were used. But, we’ve gotta call them something
Sometimes it seems easy. Take a look at the ceramic objects in the image below. What would you call these objects? And unless you’re already familiar with Greek ceramics, I bet there’s one that you aren’t sure what to call it.
Read 24 tweets
Jul 2, 2018
@sportzak OK time for a Greek religion 101 thread! B/c it's complicated

Greek religion was polytheistic. And in practice it included a far wider range of deities than our popular imagination would suggest

Probably no two Greeks followed the exact same cults
@sportzak Let’s tackle the traditional Greek deities first. In practice, it’s better to think of them as cult figures than deities.

There were many Athenas! And even many Poseidons, Zeuses, Heras, and more.
@sportzak The Athena in the Odyssey was a literary/mythical figure

She is not Athena Parthenos (the virgin), worshiped at the Parthenon, who was different from that of Athena Nike (victory), both in Athens, who different from Athena Alea who was worshiped in Arcadia (temple at Tegea)
Read 16 tweets
Apr 17, 2018
A #ClassicalZooarchaeology flamingo thread (in 20 tweets)

Over lunch I checked out depictions of dancing flamingos from 5000+ yrs ago. h/t @ArchaicAnimals for drawing my attention to the super-cool image below

The research-hole didn’t take me where I thought it would…
If you google around, these rows of dancing flamingos are depicted on vessels from Upper (southern) Egypt. They come from the cultural group labeled Naqada from predynastic Egypt, before the country was unified under a Pharaoh (we’re talking approx 4000-3000 BC)
The research was made easy because the @metmuseum has many beautiful Naqada artifacts available online

Of course, I’m gonna show you all the best ones, like this vessel with feet or this figurine made of hippo-tusk ivory
Read 25 tweets
Mar 16, 2018
Introducing #ClassicalZooarchaeology
This is my 1st thread highlighting how animal bones can answer important questions in the ancient Mediterranean
#Zooarchaeology is often thought of as a niche study, but it relates to traditional forms of evidence
#scicomm #humanities
When we think of #Classics, ancient texts are often prioritized. Animals were an important topic for ancient authors
For example, according to the TLG the lemma hippos (horse) is the 13th most common term in Homer’s Iliad (417 mentions). Horses were important to epic warfare
It’s no surprise that animals – especially plow oxen – are important to Hesiod’s agricultural poem Works and Days
But texts don’t tell the whole picture about #AncientAnimals
Pigs are only mentioned once in Hesiod: boars should be castrated on the 8th day of the month (WD 790)
Read 17 tweets

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