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.
The 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.
- Ein Gedi ancient synagogue
- Ahava Dead Sea products factory in Mitzpeh Shalem