We imaging that we are sophisticated and yet the more we look into the past, the humbler we become.  Technologies, trade and ideas in the past were actually quite complex and far-reaching.  As reported recently, the world was much more interconnected in antiquity than we thought and products associated with burial were shipped around the world.

Researchers in England decided to see what they could find about Roman influence on the local culture by analyzing some Roman era graves in England.  Dating back 1700 years or more, the graves show the extent of the influence of the Roman empire.  Upon opening the tombs, the archaeologists were met with dust.  When they analyzed the dust, they found traces of frankincense.  This precious of all perfumes was from the Middle East and features in the spices used in the Temple and in the gifts of the wise men.  Frankincense kept away the putrid smells associated with the dead but apparently was also buried with them to  make their journey to the next world sweet.

asphaltThe second important find in the English tombs was thought at first to be simply tar, something which can be locally procured.  Upon further analysis, the black gooey substance used in these 4th century burials was found to be asphalt from the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea, also known as Mar Asphaltis by the Romans, had a unique phenomenon producing pure asphalt.  Every once in a while, a block of pure asphalt would erupt from the sea bottom and float to the surface.  The Egyptians prized this product as it was used for embalming; but from this find we see that it was also important all through the Roman period and was traded as far away as England.

In today’s world, there is much concern over who controls the sources of petroleum products.  Even before the combustion engine, Israel, with no oil resources whatsoever, was square in the middle of a petroleum product – asphalt.  And some of that product made it as far as England.  Sounds like the global village – almost 2000 years ago.

Related sites:

  • Ein Gedi ancient synagogue
  • Ahava Dead Sea products factory in Mitzpeh Shalem
  • Masada

1 Comment

  1. Hi Susan (in my mind, you are always Susan!)
    In my Bible study this year we are studying Genesis and it’s so funny,ironic or just really neat that your post is about asphalt. Our lesson for this week was Genesis 14 and 15 and in chapter 14:10 God’s word says, “Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains.” Some one in our group said, “Wouldn’t it be awful to fall into an asphalt pit?” Yes, I think it would!
    Also, have been pondering your response to my other comment about the sycamore trees and Zacchaeus where you said that the teaching involved in the account where Jesus spies Zacchaeus is the important thing, not whether or not it truly did happen. The lessons in it are indeed very good and wonderful, but, to me the most important thing is that it actually happened, that Jesus is real, that it was a moment in history that was valued enough to be recorded. There are many who are trying to say that Jesus didn’t even exist, trying to make His whole life a parable or fairy tale. I will always stand for the truth of the scriptures and my love for Jesus.
    I am also loving learning about all the interesting things that you are researching about ancient times! Keep it up! Much love to you, your Auntie

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