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German scholar explores Jerash history through tomb settings

By Saeb Rawashdeh - Nov 21,2017 - Last updated at Nov 21,2017

Cathrin Pogoda

AMMAN — The 2nd century AD was a period of prosperity for Jerash, which was a huge city with many residents, noted Cathrin Pogoda, a German researcher, based on her study of the tombs and grave goods which “don’t reflect the entire society — but the upper class”.

“Status has long determined the type of burial and grave goods people get. To build a Hypogeum or a mausoleum or to order a stone sarcophagus was not something everyone could afford,” she told The Jordan Times in a recent e-mail interview. 

 

Objects in graves

 

According to the German scholar, the most common grave goods included pottery (mostly oil lamps, jugs, different kind of jars, amphoras and cups), glassware (mostly unguentaria — small bottles for liquids) and jewellery. 

Most of the tombs were chambered tombs of different sizes and quality, Pogoda explained, adding that they were equipped with adjoining rooms, boundary fences and altars. 

The spectrum ranged from individual tombs to collective graves, she highlighted, stressing that the individual tombs consisted either of inhumation burial pits covered with slabs or a sarcophagus. 

The multiple burials were graves with two or more sepulchral niches or loculi of different sizes, while collective graves appeared as hypogea or columbaria, she noted.

“Some monumental mausoleums were arranged alongside the arterial roads. The tomb of the centurion Germanus is the most famous and the best preserved as it is located about 100 metres from the large water basin of Birketein. The door lintel conveys an inscription which dates the construction as being from the second half of the 3nd century AD,“ Pogoda underlined.

Furthermore, several burial practices were existing at the same time including complete skeletons (with and without the skull), ash and burned human bones, she continued.

The necropolis in the city extended across the breadth of the ancient city, she said, noting that numerous tombs were discovered, but very few have been systematically excavated. “Many of them simply disappeared without any documentation of the ground plan or registration of the precise location. Therefore, the tombs are under intense threat as the growth of the modern city rapidly encroaches into the area immediately beyond the ancient city walls and often extends over necropolis and tombs,” she explained.

 

Sarcophagi decoration

 

The most famous necropolis and tombs are the Southern necropolis (located in the area of the Hadrian Arc and the Hippodrome), the Northwest necropolis (located in a residential area and endangered by destruction and the Southwest one.

In addition to the burial practices of residents of the Roman Jerash, there are plenty of sarcophagi inside the ancient city walls, which indicates the number of tombs from that period, Pogoda stressed.

One hundred and six sarcophagi have been found so far, but there are still some to be discovered in the hinterland of Jerash, the archaeologist noted. “They all consist of the local limestone and constitute a relatively select group within the Province of Arabia,” she said. 

A common feature of these sarcophagi is decoration and they are classified into seven different types, the expert stressed. 

“The first is the so-called Amazon-Shield-Type, named after the decoration on its front. In the middle, there is most commonly a wreath with a Hercules’ knot,” Pogoda explained, adding that the representation of Amazon-Shields on sarcophagi is rarely documented outside of Jerash.

“I assume that the special presentation was limited to Gerasa due to the fact that nearly one third of the sarcophagi from here exhibit this iconography,” she underscored.

Another common motif is the pseudo-handles which either imitates handles placed on sarcophagi in order to carry them or the handles, where garlands were hanging on which was assumed from wooden sarcophagi, Pogoda elaborated.

“The number of sarcophagi which were found inside the hypogea varies: the largest tomb includes 12 of them,” the archaeologist said.

Due to the fact, that none of these sarcophagi shows either inscriptions or stylistically relevant clues, it will be a difficult, yet, not impossible to date them, she argued.

The deposits of undisturbed burials provide an opportunity for ascertaining a date, Pogoda explained, adding that even the disturbed tombs often contain a rich inventory such as pottery, jewellery and coins. 

Pogoda said that her future research will result in a corpus of locally produced limestone sarcophagi and further a collocation of the tombs and necropolis of Jerash. 

“It will be a contribution to the understanding of provincial societies in the Roman Empire and the self-representation of its local elites. My concern is to provide invaluable documentation and material that will otherwise be lost and which is important in helping to secure the cultural heritage,” Pogoda concluded.

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