The Newsletter of the Megiddo Expedition

Virtual Reality
Temple Complex
In Memoriam
Thutmose III
Faunal Remains
Charms Capture
The 1998 Excavation
In the Footsteps... OI
The Gossip Corner
Faunal Remains from Megiddo
B ones! 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 much tougher. 

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.

Paula Wapnish 
University of Alabama