AIA - New Haven Society of the
Archaeological Institute of America
The Unsolved Mystery of the Agora Bone Well

Susan I. Rotroff
Tuesday, February 17, 2008, 5:00 P.M. (New Time)
Yale University, Phelps Hall, Room 407

Sheldon H. Solow Lecture

In 1937, a deep well was excavated on the brow of the Kolonos Agoraios, the hill that overlooks the agora, or public center, of the ancient city of Athens.  The well contained the usual assortment of material culture, including pottery and the stamped handles of transport amphorae (trade containers) that date its filling to the second quarter of the 2nd century B.C.  Unlike most other wells, however, this one contained a large collection of human bones: the remains of 450 new-born infants, along with the skeleton of an 11-year old child and one adult.  It also had a rich collection of faunal material, including the bones of about 150 dogs, an unusually large collection.  Perhaps because of its unsettling contents, the deposit has never been studied in detail.

The lecture will present the results of an interdisciplinary study of the contents of the well, concluding with hypotheses as to why and how the babies and the dogs found their way into the well.  Plague?  Famine?  Infanticide? Or simply natural infant mortality?

Ever since a 6th-grade ancient history class, Susan Rotroff has been fascinated by the Greeks and Romans. Latin was a favorite subject, and Rotroff’s early efforts included composing a soulful folk ballad on the wanderings of Aeneas. After graduating from Bryn Mawr, a year at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens gave her a hands-on introduction to Greek archaeology. As a Princeton graduate student, she began in 1970 to work at the Agora excavations. She has published three volumes on the Agora’s Hellenistic ceramics. Recently, Rotroff has worked in Turkey on an underwater survey at Kaledran and the excavation of a Roman ship at Kizilburun. Since 1995 she has been on the Classics Department faculty at Washington University in St. Louis.

Lecturer's Curriculum Vitae

For More Information on Lecture Topic:

J. M. Camp, The Athenian Agora, London 1986. Well illustrated account of the ancient Agora of Athens, with results of excavations since 1931. (official website of the excavations).

For the archaeology of infant death, see E. Scott, The Archaeology of Infancy and Infant Death (BAR-IS 819), Oxford 1999.

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