BEIRUT: Back in 1994, the curator of Tunis’ National Museum wanted to plant a tree. A hole was dug in front of the museum building on the hill of Byrsa, Carthage, and a hollow was discovered. The workman dug further and uncovered a tomb, where the body of a young man named Arish was interred.
Residents of Phoenician Tyre founded Carthage around 1814 B.C., during the reign of Queen Elissa. With time Tyre’s colony became an economic and commercial powerhouse in its own right. It became one of several regional rivals that included republican Rome, Syracuse – a Sicilian colony of the Greek city-state of Corinth – and Numidia – a Berber-Libyan kingdom that throve between 202 and 46 B.C. in the marchlands of today’s Algeria and Tunis.
Carthage is best known for its intermittent military conflict with Rome called the Punic Wars. The second of these saw Carthaginian General Hannibal (247-183/181 B.C.) lead an army from Iberia over the Pyrenees and Alps, to occupy tracts of Italy for 15 years. The Third Punic War finally saw Carthage fall to Rome, though the city was later reconstructed as New Carthage.
First uncovered by French archaeologist Jean-Claude Morel, Arish was a young man from the sixth century B.C. He stood about 1m 70cm, and bore physical features that have come to be associated with Phoenicians – a broad forehead, high orbits and long skull.
The name “Arish” means “the beloved of Gods” and was commonly used on Punic inscriptions. Studies on his body have revealed he may have been between 19 and 24 years old when he passed away. Arish’s skeleton was found intact, suggesting he did not die abruptly.
Arish landed in Beirut a few days ago. Starting Wednesday he will be put on display at AUB Museum, in an exhibition entitled “The Young Phoenician Man of Carthage.”
“This is the first time we import an exhibition,” museum director Leila Badr told The Daily Star. “We have built a space within a space.”
Archaeologists’ examination of the young man of Byrsa has enabled them to put a face on one of the more intriguing immigrations in ancient times.
AUB’s exhibition space has been divided into two major parts. The first welcomes a reconstruction of Arish’s tomb, along with such funerary materials as amulets and jars.
“There will be texts,” Badr said, “explaining everything that was with the skeleton.”
Also to be exhibited are two Punic amphorae, a lamp, plate and ivory cabochons that were found atop the tomb and with the skeleton. Goose bone fragments were also in the tomb, along with a scarab intaglio and pyxis.
“There will stand the reconstructed man in all his glory,” Badr said, describing the second room. Next to Arish’s body, the museum will project a three-minute film that documents his discovery and reconstruction.
Elisabeth Daynes – the French sculptor who specializes in recreating the appearance of prehistoric folk, most notably the Australopithecus specimen “Lucy” – applied her special skill to reconstruct Arish’s visage.
Dermoplasty, the practice of creating molds to reconstruct faces and other body parts, enables us to have a specific representation of Arish’s former appearance. Tunisia’s International Council of Museums collaborated in the studies that made the reconstruction possible.
A tool often used in medical forensics, dermoplasty consists of two stages. The first establishes the identity of the person by studying a corpse’s skull and mandible. Muscles are then built around the skull, which recreates the head’s proportions, then that of the body as a whole.
Genetic tests will later determine more about Arish’s family heritage.
Arish “is exact at 95 percent,” Badr said, “except for the color of the eyes, skin and hair. Everything else is absolutely correct.”
“The Young Phoenician Man of Carthage” will open on Jan. 29 at the AUB Museum and will be running until Feb. 26. For more information, call 01-340-549.