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Living Amongst Tombs

■ 8 July 2012 by James Martin

I’ve just finished writing about Egnazia, a museum and archaeological park in Puglia. There’s a little section of the site, near the museum, that’s very important. It’s the Western Necropolis, a vast burial space with lots of different ways to entomb a person.

egnazia tomb pictureThe Western Necropolis is very important for archaeologists because it shows how burial practices change over time and across cultures, from the folks who inhabited the 16th century BC huts to the Romans who ran an important trading post along the Via Traiana.

Eventually Totila, King of the Goths, in 545 A.D laid waste to the city in decline and it struggled along valiantly during those dark ages. Eventually, folks started to make the larger tombs habitable.

It’s hard for USians to imagine. It’s not like we go into cemeteries and say to a loved one, “Ya know, mom, if we managed to rip out all these tombstones, cement them together in a rough rectangle, and put on some kinda roof made of thatch from these trees, we could have a nice little abode here. At least it’s quiet.”

Nevertheless, having been an archaeologist, I’ve come across many rock-cut tombs in Europe I’d not hesitate for a millisecond to live in (if, of course, one brought in a bed, a refrigerator, and a hot tub—I’m not as young as I used to be).

This kind of tomb living is front and center in the Bible, too. I like the story of the demented man of the tombs; this from Luke in the American Standard Version:

And when he was come forth upon the land, there met him a certain man out of the city, who had demons; and for a long time he had worn no clothes, and abode not in any house, but in the tombs.

I sort of like the guy. He’s so full of demons he can’t be chained. He just rips those chains clear off. He’s free of idiotic clothing.

So let’s summarize: strong, free, nekid, and living rent free. It’s kinda like some sort of modern ideal. Of course, he’s possessed, so it all doesn’t count. He asks Jesus for help so he can put on some clothing and get some rip-off mortgage from a financial institution bent on gambling on these kinds of things.

He’ll be back in the tombs soon enough, doncha think? We’ve come a long way from those days.

Anyway, if you work hard enough and the side of your abode-tomb is of pretty-as pie rock that’s been thrust up outta the sea by forces way too large to imagine, you might end up with a wall that looks something like this, from a picture taken inside a tomb at Egnazia. Nice niche, eh? Good place to keep your iPad.

colorful tomb picture

Now you tell me that ain’t purty!

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Living Amongst Tombs originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Jul 08, 2012, © James Martin.

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