History of the Project
This project began with a visit to the École Biblique in October 1994, by  Susan Sheridan while traveling to Jerusalem on unrelated business.  A serendipitous conversation during lunch with Professor Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, OP and Kevin McCaffrey, OP sparked interest in the human remains housed on the École grounds (click on faculty picture to tour the monastery).

Through the hospitality of the École faculty (pictured above), the generous support of the University of Notre Dame, and the permission of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, Sheridan and a then Junior anthropology major Jennifer Richtsmeier, began to exhume the remains from one repository in a burial complex on the École grounds.  Together they removed the bones by layer, processing approximately 1,500 skeletal elements that first year.

At the end of the 1995 field season, Sheridan and Richtsmeier presented their findings to the École community.  These "bone talks" (right; click on image to visit field seasons) would become a yearly occurrence as the project continued.   Although originally the remains were to be reinterred in the tomb complex at the end of the season, the École enthusiastically agreed to permit another summer of exhumation and provided space to store the remains in the interim.

During the summer 1996, another 1,500 remains were removed and studied, with the help again of Jenny Richtsmeier, as well as fathers Patrick Cronauer, OSB and Eugene Kaboré, OCE.   The second season brought to light a consistent pattern of pathology later related to kneeling practices.  In addition, a growing collection of subadult remains were being exposed.

Significant funding was secured for the 1997 summer season from the University of Notre Dame.  Two theology professors joined the research as part of a University sponsored multiyear collaborative research initiative. Michael Driscoll  (pictured below with Sue Sheridan) brought an expertise in liturgical studies, of particular interest given the biomechanical findings related to kneeling.  Blake Leyerle provided a connection to patristic scholarship, with specific interests in daily life reconstructions related to diet and the children.

In June 1997, Sheridan began a one year stay in Jerusalem sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research.  She was a Fellow at the Albright, and worked in the laboratory facilities at the École Biblique. During the summer, 5 students participated in the excavations.  The remaining bones were exhumed, and numerous texts of importance to understanding life in the Byzantine Near East translated.  Throughout the academic year (1997-98), those remains were studied in detail by a team of 8 interns that volunteered on the project.

The Fall 1998 semester saw the return of one student on a Fulbright Fellowship to study the subadult remains.  Michael Driscoll likewise spent the semester at the École, drawing upon their library holdings and the liturgical abundance of Jerusalem.  Sheridan joined the Jerusalem team three times during the course of the year.

The 1998-99 academic year saw incorporation of the project results in Sheridan's osteology class, Driscoll's liturgy seminar, and Leyerle's patristic course, thereby adding to the undergraduate and graduate curriculum of both the Anthropology and Theology departments.

A fieldtrip component was added to the summer 1999 season, which included visits to research facilities around Jerusalem such as Hebrew University.  The "tomb team" also ventured to several Byzantine sites, including a hike through Wadi Kelt to Choziba (St. George's monastery, pictured right).  Visits to sites throughout Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Golan, and Palestine, helped illustrate the  implications of Byzantine monasticism, both socially and from the standpoint of human adaptability.

To date, a detailed demographic analysis, calculation of community size, and stature reconstruction have been completed (abstract), as has a detailed description of the material culture commingled with the human remains (abstract), and an analysis of the non-human animal bone intrusions (report).

All the necessary biocultural components have been amassed permitting the St. Stephen's remains to be used as an excellent study collection and teaching tool.  Years of future analysis are anticipated for this project, including further studies of daily activity patterns, dietary reconstruction, childhood health and adaptability, pilgrimage patterns, and paleopathological analysis.


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