Regional Comparisons
As stated by Schwartz, "although compiling long lists of measurements for its own sake is of little value, the quantification of morphological features is necessary·in order to make accurate comparisons between and within skeletal populations"  (Schwartz, 1997:322).  Thus, a survey of the literature was undertaken to find regional counterparts to the St. Stephenâs collection.

Few published analyses of skeletal collections from the 73 desert monasteries surveyed by Hirschfeld  were available for comparison to the Byzantine St. Stephenâs collection (1).  On occasion, when allusion was made to human remains in the literature, it usually occurrs as a footnote or passing mention, such as those found for Khirbet Bureikut (2),  Gerasimus (3),  Khirbet el-Kilya (4),  Khallat ed-Danabiya (5),  and Theoctistus (6 - Deir Mugallik).   Likewise at Choziba (pictured left), mention of hundreds of skeletal remains can be found in several works, however osteological analysis was lacking (7).

The same was true for the Mar Saba region (pictured right) (8).   Maderâs excavation of the monastery of Sabas described several skulls and skeletal remains that possibly date to the Byzantine period (9).   Passing reference was also made to 5 burial sites in Sabasâ nearby Kastellion (10).    A more detailed description of the site and surrounding coenobia can be found in the work of Patrich (11),  with mention and photos of the abundance of skeletal material in situ. In the burial caves were found frescos of 36 figures, probably the hermits of the monastery, as well as a list of names.  And in the diakonikon, reference was made to the skulls of the monks on display in glass cases, and the storage of their appendicular skeletal remains in a separate area sealed by a metal grill (12).    Again however, no analysis of the skeletal material seems to have been conducted as part of the larger archaeological investigation.

At Martyrius (13) in the Judean desert, excavation reports mention the exhumation and later reburial in Bethany (Monastery of el-cAzariya) of 10 individuals (9 men, perhaps one woman).  Osteological analysis of these remains concentrated on specific disease syndromes such as arthritis (14).   Likewise, at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, analyses focused on leprosy and tuberculosis (15).   Given the small size of the collection(s) and degree of preservation, age and stature reconstructions were not conducted.

The most useful published comparative skeletal analysis found to date was completed on the remains from the monastery of Euthymius (16 - Khan el-Ahmar, pictured left).   Chittyâs original description of the tomb contents mentioned several skeletons,  including the remains of a short old man, a short younger man (~21 years old) with "a fairly small thigh but vast of hip," one woman, and several children (17). Herschkovitz and others subsequently described the skeletal collection in detail (18).


Table 1:
The degree of similarity between the Khan el-Ahmar and St. Stephenâs collections was notable.  Both contained the remains of primary burials, found in a commingled setting.  The minimum number of individuals were comparable, with 117 adults and 21 children in the Khan el-Ahmar collection (19) compared to the 109 and 58 individuals from St. Stephenâs. Herschkovitz reported that all remains were male (20),   again a comparable pattern to the largely male community at St. Stephenâs.  The age distributions in the adults were the same, with approximately 20% aged over 50 years, and almost half the collection greater than 40 years old. Furthermore, as seen in Table 1 (above, left) there was no significant difference in robusticity between the two Byzantine collections using the measures reported for the Khan el-Ahmar collection (21).     As indicated earlier, stature for Khan el-Ahmar was reconstructed at 167 cm, compared with 166.5±6.6 cm height at St. Stephenâs.

Future analysis will include expanding the search for comparative collections beyond the Judean desert.  Herskovitz and others have conducted analyses in both the Galilee and Negev, and the literature for these regions will thus be combed for sources of comparative osteological data (22).


1. Every reference available in the Ecole Bibliqueâs extensive library holdings as of July 1998 pertaining to the 73 sites listed in Y HIRSCHFELD ["List of the Byzantine Monasteries in the Judean Desert," in G. Bottini, L. DiSegni, and E Alliata, eds., Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land:  New Discoveries (Jerusalem, Franciscan Printing Press: 1990), 1-89] were examined for mention of skeletal analysis.  This literature was surveyed by the author, Richard Bautch, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, Brian Kvasnica, and Angela Kim.   Return

2.  HIRSCHFELD "List", #30, 46-7; Y. TSAFRIR, "Khirbet Bureikut", IEJ 26 (1976), 206-7; Y. TSAFRIR and Y. HIRSCHFELD, "The Byzantine Church at Horvat Berachot", in Y. Tsafrir, ed., Ancient Churches Revealed (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Socitey, 1993), 207-8.  Mention is made of a tomb containing the remains of 11 individuals, some represented by only a few bones.  Joe Zias was credited with the osteological analysis (213), although no mention was made of further analysis beyond the MNI estimate.   Return

3.  HIRSCHFELD "List", #7, 18-9;  J. ZIAS ["Was Byzantine Herodium a Leprosarium?" Biblical Archaeologist 49, (1986), 182-6, esp. 185] mentions that skeletal remains demonstrating leprosy were found at this monastery, but no published reference for this work is provided.   Return

4.  HIRSCHFELD "List", #44, 56-7; Y. MAGEN, "A Roman Fortress and a Byzantine Monastery at Khirbet el-Kilya", in G. Bottini, L. DiSegni, and E Alliata, eds.,Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land:  New Discoveries (Jerusalem:  Franciscan Printing Press, 1990), 321-32. Tomb typology for a Byzantine burial chamber was described, and a total of 19 skeletons were found therein.  However, other than burial orientation (east/west) and associated grave goods, no description of these remains was provided beyond the MNI (324-6). Return

5.  HIRSCHFELD "List", #48, 58-9;  GOLDFUS, "Khallat ed Danabiya", 227-44.  Two burial chambers were described, with bones intact.  However, an exact count of the remains was not provided, only burial orientation. Return

6.  HIRSCHFELD "List", #4, 12-13;  H GOLDFUS, et. al., "St. Theoctistus", 276-280 and note 86, 278.   Status differences in burial arrangement were discussed based on tomb typology, and mention was made of the eastern compartment being filled with bones.  Return

7.  HIRSCHFELD "List", #15, 29-31;  A. SCHNEIDER, "Das Kloster der Theotoskos zu Choziba im Wadi el Kelt", Rönabuscgeb Quartalschrift 39 (1931), 297-330;  O. MEINARDUS, "Notes on the Laurae and Monasteries of the Wilderness of Judaea", LA 15 (1964), 220-50; J. ZIAS ("Byzantine Herodium", 186, note 3] mentioned that the remains from the charnel house at Choziba were analyzed, however they were later dated to post-Byzantine.  It should be noted that one reason for the lack of osteological analysis of human remains in this region is the extreme pressure placed on anthropological investigations by the ultra-orthodox community.  For detailed descriptions of this controversy, see: D. SHILOH, "Bones of Contention", Jerusalem Post Magazine July 25 (1997), 11-3; and,  G. BARKAY,  "Politics -- Not Religious Law -- Rules Ultra-Orthodox Demonstrators",  BAR  November/December (1997), 56-8.   Return

8.  HIRSCHFELD "List", #16, 31-2. Return

9.   A. MADER, "Sechsunddreissig heiligengemaelde in einer Graeberhoehle von hirget el-in der Wuesste Juda", Das Heilige Land 72 (1928), 33-52, esp. 35;  and, A. MADER, "Conical Sundail and Ikon Inscription from the Kastellion Monastery on Khirbet el-Merd in the Wilderness of Judah", Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society 9 (1929), 122-135, esp. 128.  He described how a friend from the nearby monastery Mar Saba had "erected a little oratory in the tomb-cave amid the bones of the old monk."  Return

10. I. POMMERANTZ, Excavations and Surveys in Israel 2 (1983), 65-66.   Return

11. J. PATRICH, Sabas;  J. PATRICH, Map of Deir Mar Saba, (Jerusalem:  IAA, 1994).  Return

12. J. PATRICH, Sabas,  72, 140, 143; J. PATRICH, Map, 60.   Return

13. HIRSCHFELD "List", #9, 20-22;  Y. MAGEN, The Monastery of Martyrius at Maâale Adummim (Jerusalem, IAA:  1993), 9-15.   Return

14. MAGEN, "The Monastery of St. Martyrius", esp., 178-80;  J. ZIAS, "Leprosy and Tuberculosis in the Byzantine Monasteries of the Judean Desert", in D. Ortner and A. Aufderheide, eds., Human Paleopathology:  Current Syntheses and Future Options (Washington, D.C., Smithsonian  Institution Press, 1991), 197-9; J. ZIAS, "Leprosy in the Byzantine Monasteries of the Judean Desert", Koroth 9 (1985), 242-8;  J. ZIAS and P. MITCHELL, "Psoriatic Arthritis in a Fifth-Century Judean Desert Monastery", AJPA 101 (1996), 491-502. Return

15. HIRSCHFELD "List", #20, 35-6;  ZIAS, "Leprosy in the Byzantine Monasteries", 242-8. Return

16. HIRSCHFELD "List", #6, 15-8; HIRSCHFELD, "Euthymius", 336-71.   Return

17. CHITTY, "Excavation·1929", 43-7; and "The Monastery of St. Euthymius", 188-203.   Return

18. HERSCHKOVITZ, et. al., "Khan el-Ahmar", 373-85;  Y. MERMARIS, "The Monastery of St. Euthymius the Great at Khan El-Ahmar, in the Wilderness of Judea",  Rescue Excavations and Basic Protection Measures, 1976-1979, Preliminary Report (Athens, Eptalophos: 1989), esp. 31-3.   Return

19. HERSCHKOVITZ ("The Human Remains", 374) estimated that when other excavations and the poor quality of preservation were considered, the number approached 152 adults and 28 children.   Return

20. While this likely true for the adults, all of the subadults were listed as male, even those for whom sex determination could not have been definatively diagnosed (those under 10 years).   Return

21. HERSCHKOVITZ et al., "Rehovot", 374-5.   Return

22. Cranial measurements will also be collected to provide comparative information for other sites.  For example, B. ARENSBURG [The People, 32-9, 81), and H. NATHAN and N. HAAS ("Anthopological Data on the Judean Desert Skeletons", in E. Goldschmidt, ed., The Genetics of Migrant and Isolated Populations (Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1963), 284-5] presented information on cranial measurements as part of their overall racial classifications. Although racial classification is beyond the scope of this paper, and is of questionable biological credence, similar measurements can be used in an overall assessment of robusticity and will be analyzed in future works on the St. Stephenâs collection.   Additional information on postcranial measurements will also be collected for regions outside the Judean desert, such as those presented in HERSCHKOVITZ et. al., "Rehovot", 207-8.   Return


To enter another page in the Osteology Collections, choose from the list of links:
  Age Reconstruction
  Sex Reconstruction
  Stature Reconstruction
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