The skeletal remains of four people, three adults and one infant, buried in a broken amphora, were unexpectedly discovered during the excavation of a colonnaded street in the ancient port city of Anemurium, modern Mersin, on the Mediterranean coast of south-central Turkey. This is the first burial of newborn amphoras discovered in Anemurium.
Four people were buried together, but with varying care. The newborn was placed in an amphora and carefully buried. Three adults were buried directly in the ground in a much more random way. Archaeologists believe it was a family group and that the infant, who died before he barely lived, was given special attention at a funeral.
Pot burials, known as enchitrismos, were extremely common in the Greek world and were the main burial practice for fetuses, infants, and young children. For example, in just one necropolis, the Cylindra cemetery on the island of Astilapaya, there are more than 3,400 potted infant burials, the largest collection of ancient infant remains in the world.
Greco-Roman burial customs called for the burial of the dead outside the city walls, often in necropolises that had been used for generations. Since infant and child mortality was very high, infants and children under the age of three were often buried outside official burial chambers. In this case, the child was buried under the street, and not in the city necropolis.
During the excavations of this year, seven burials were found at this site – five adults, one child and a baby in an amphora. During last year’s excavations in the Anemurium necropolis, eight burials were discovered, if it was a street, then an unusually large number of graves were dug on it. Archaeologists suggest that there may have been a church in the area, rather than a colonnaded city street, and that the dead were buried in a cemetery.