Welcome to the history page. Today we will continue the discussion we began
last week on the Phoenician necropolis. Granted, commentaries of this type are
rather morbid, but in the name of higher learning we shall forge ahead. Perhaps
it will seem less gloomy if we bear in mind that this ancient burial ground
is actually one of Ibiza's claims to fame, for it is the largest existing Punic
necropolis outside of Carthage. Today we will take a closer look at the funerary
rites and afterlife beliefs of the people who first used it.
The Early Years
The necropolis was founded by the Phoenicians toward the end of the 7th century
BC when these sea-faring peoples established a permanent settlement in what
is now the old town of Ibiza. As was habitual in Phoenician cities, the area
for the living and the area for the dead lay in close proximity.
In the case of Ibiza, the town was situated on a headland at the edge of the
bay, while the necropolis occupied a slightly lesser rise, more inland and to
the west. These two elevations (calcareous massifs from the Tertiary Age) were
separated by a streambed, the present day Calle Joan Xicˇ. This site served
as the city's cemetery throughout the whole of antiquity, entombing a long succession
of cadaverous inmates as the island changed hands both politically and theologically.
As we mentioned last week, the denomination 'Puig des Molins', derives from
a much later date (approx.15th century) when the area was put to agricultural
use and its surface was dotted with windmills. The name literally means "hill
Phoenician Practices (circa 625/600 - 475/450 BC)
The severe hardship of life for the first Phoenician traders made having a
necropolis a flat-out necessity much more than a religious nicety. The mortality
statistics obtained in modern excavations are horrifying, and paint a very different
picture of the fabled Phoenicians than we are used to.
The average age of death in adults was 26, although children constituted 37.8%
of all deaths with the average age of demise being two and a half. Sadly, however,
only a third of the infants born in these rough settlements survived past their
first year. Based on this data, it has been deduced that Ibiza's population
during this early period fluctuated between 400 and 500 inhabitants. The surface
area of the necropolis during this time has been estimated between 6,000 m2
and 10,000 m2.
Another interesting fact is that approximately 10% of the burials in this period
were double, which indicates that death claimed both persons at the same time.
Different burial combinations were possible, either two adults (always one male
and one female), or one adult and one child, of indiscriminate genders, presumably
parents with their offspring.
Phoenician beliefs about the afterlife derive from the Syrio-Palestinian tradition
of the Bronze Age. Though only a fragmentary knowledge of this tradition has
come down to the present day, it can be surmised from ancient texts that death
was conceived of as a supernatural being called M˘t or Muth. In Phoenician belief,
when a person died he did not lose his existence, only his way of existing.
The departed soul would leave the physical world to join the group of Divine
Ancestors who exercised benign providence over the living. As celestial dwellers,
the dead were considered agents of healing, givers of fertility and protectors
of the family.
Certain texts also give credence to the idea that the Phoenicians believed in
the existence of two souls, one corporeal and the other spiritual. The corporeal
soul (nephesh) remained with the body after death - for which reason it required
substance - and continued to form part of the deceased person's family group.
The spiritual soul ('barlat' or 'rouah') took leave of the body at the moment
Some texts point to the belief in an underground world where these spiritual
souls resided, a kind of common resting round for the Divine Ancestors. This
place has been depicted as a world of shadows where the deceased had their beds
so that, together, they might enjoy eternal rest. Other sources, however, suggest
that this eternal resting round was envisioned as a 'city' toward which departed
souls made their pilgrimage.
Forms of Farewell
Again there are large gaps in the understanding of the funerary procedure.
Certain writings tell us that the departure of the deceased was punctuated by
lamentations, wailing and other forms of ritualized mourning. Also, it can be
deducted that the bodies of the dead were prepared for passage into the other
world by careful washing and anointing as well as by applying clothes and cosmetics.
The disposal of bodies during this period was exclusively by means of cremation.
However, in contrast to other necropoleis in the Phoenician sphere of influence,
in Ibiza no set place for the enactment of this ritual has been determined.
On the contrary, it has been proven that the cremations took place on an individual
basis, close to the tomb, or, in some cases, inside the tomb itself.
Following the cremation, in some cases, the bones were carefully gathered and
washed prior to burial; while, in other cases, the bones were merely collected,
without being separated from the carbon and ash, and deposited directly inside
the tomb. It is reasonable to assume that these differences in mortuary protocol
corresponded to differences in the social and economic standing of the deceased.
The Graves and Their Goods
Tombs of the Phoenician period fall into two groups. The first consists of
small cavities in the terrain that could be either naturally occurring hollows,
sometimes with slight alterations, or man-made niches dug into rock or earth.
The remains of ash and bone were placed inside these recesses, either contained
within ceramic urns or else deposited directly into the hollow, at times inside
a small ring of stones, or else covered by a heap of them.
The second type of tombs were larger pit graves, generally hewn into rock.
Apart from the common characteristic of being quite spacious, these tombs present
many variations with regard to size, shape and construction.
Surprisingly, grave goods during this period are almost non-existent. When
they are included in the burial they are limited to scant items of personal
adornment and/or a piece of pottery. The social differences which began to stratify
island society, especially in the 6th century BC, were signalled less by the
funeral dowry than by the size of the tomb, the quality of the cremation, the
degree of ceremony in collecting the remains from the pyre and the general complexity
of the funerary rites, rather than by the grave goods.
The ritual of cremation persisted into the beginning of the Punic era, until
at least the 5th century BC, but eventually gave way to the new Carthaginian
rite of inhumation, i.e. burial. This change in practice, which may seem lacking
in historical relevance, is actually one of the key pieces of data which have
allowed archaeologists to confirm the existence of two strains of Iron Age settlers,
the first Phoenician and the second, slightly later in its arrival, Punic. Experts
have been able to detect, moreover, two distinct areas within the necropolis,
one devoted to Punic inhumations and the other to Phoenician cremations. But
that is a chapter for another day - perhaps Halloween!
Next week we'll take a break from the gloom of the underworld and turn our
attention to happier subjects. According to my agenda, the village of Sant Ferran
in Formentera is due for its patron saint fiesta this Wednesday (30th May).
If you happen to be in the vicinity you might want to drop in a have a grand
old time. If not, drop by the history page and find out all about it. See you