When an excavation in Tunisia has been completed, it must, according to law, be made accessible to tourists—paths must be landscaped and markers and explanatory signs prominently posted. But in the case of the Carthaginian Tophet, the huge cemetery of children sacrificed to the gods, this was impossible. A steadily rising water level at the site insured that if left to nature, the Tophet would turn into stagnant, mosquito-infested pools. The American team that excavated the Tophet in the 1970s was obliged to fill it in with dirt at the end of the last season.
But a portion of the Tophet will be preserved—as a life-size replica of one ten-foot-long, five-foot-high cross-section. (The Tophet itself may once have been as large as 64,000 square feet.) This replica will become a permanent exhibit in the Carthage Museum, which is located atop the Byrsa, the legendary original site of the city.
Using the archaeologists’ field notebooks, the model builders replicated the color and texture of the Tophet’s soil layers and “carved out” burial pits according to the section’s recorded stratigraphy. Actual urns and monuments were then placed in the model just as they were discovered. For example, at the far left a small sandstone cippus from the earliest level of the Tophet (Tanit I) marks a tulip-shaped burial urn beneath.
Completing the exhibit will be photographs and drawings from the excavation with captions in English, French and Arabic to help explain the meaning of the Tophet.
BAR readers can help complete this permanent exhibit of the Tophet, which will be opened to the public in Carthage next year. Send your tax deductible contributions to the Oriental Institute, the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637; make checks payable to “Carthage Model, Oriental Institute.”