Precious few of the human variety, fortunately, but a veritable 'apocalypse'
of those from our four-legged friends are found at sites in Israel. So
where can a harried zooarchaeologist go for a bit of renewal and mental
refreshment amidst this ubiquitous debris from ancient carnage? Since our
zooarchaeological credo is 'The More Bones the Better,' there can be no
greater spiritual balm than to go to one of the very centres of the investigation,
the Mother Lode of faunal remains from sacred contexts, the Megiddo Early
Bronze cultic complex, better known as 'Area J'. Two seasons of excavation
(1994 and 1996) have recovered many thousands of bones from the extensive
sacrifices made in the compound.
Most of the bones are of domestic sheep and goats,
with cattle a distant third; pig was used every now and then, as were,
very rarely, gazelle and fallow deer, both wild species.
Scattered among the chopped and fragmented specimens
are many articulations — whole lower leg and toe bones in correct anatomical
position. These are portions of the animal with little meat value that
are usually removed as a unit during butchery. Their presence tells us
that the Area J accumulations are relatively undisturbed; that is, we are
digging up bones that have stayed where they were first discarded, rather
than the more common discovery of garbage that has been moved around and
repeatedly reburied, a complexity that makes our task of interpretation
The bones represent the slaughter, butcher and dismemberment,
cooking, eating and discarding of animals; in other words, evidence of
the whole process of animal use that ended with remains of meals eaten
within the sacred precinct, probably by cultic personnel and worshippers.
Why do all these bones, which actually represent
a mountain of work, provide such soul-calming relief? Because they represent,
for me at least, a goldmine of research potential. For the first time in
the research of Levantine sacrifice - sacrifice being indisputably the
most important form of ancient worship - we have a chance to get it right,
to put sacrificial activity and behaviour in context and understand the
social dynamics that allowed the Megiddo temples and their cultic institutions
to command animal resources from what must have been a considerable distance.
Until our work at Megiddo, not a single early sacred/temple
area in all the excavations in Israel had been systematically investigated
in a way that would allow scholars to understand the sacrificial system
INDEPENDENTLY of textual descriptions. Reconstructions of Canaanite sacrifice
have been largely retrojections of, or contrasts with, Israelite sacrifice
found in the Hebrew Bible.
Because we don't know how complete, accurate or precise
those descriptions are, as we possess scant comparative evidence from other
sources, it is doubly precarious to reconstruct Canaanite sacrifice from
such an incomplete base. Our Megiddo material comes from the earliest stages
of the Early Bronze period, which precedes any Israelite entity by more
than a millennium and a half. Israelite sacrifice developed against the
background of a diverse Canaanite system (as well as that of other peoples),
and it makes more sense to study it in that context.
The Megiddo faunal material makes this more logical
approach possible for the first time.
University of Alabama