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At Limmud March 12: Tina Greenfield on animal sacrifice in ancient Mesopotamia

By MARTIN ZEILIG When asked what it is about Mesopotamia that captures her imagination, Dr. Tina Greenfield has a ready response—one that is self-evident to anyone with an interest in history and archaeology.
“It is the chance to discover how an ancient civilization lived,” she says.
An archaeologist whose interests lie in the earliest cities and empires of the ancient world, Dr. Greenfield will be presenting a Zoom Power Point presentation entitled “Ritual and Religion: Sacrifice in Ancient Mesopotamia” on March 12 at Limmud 23.
Dr. Greenfield received her PhD from the University of Cambridge and currently teaches Mesopotamia Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. She is a co-director of the Near Eastern and Biblical Archaeology Lab at the University of Manitoba. She has participated on field projects in Canada, Europe, South Africa, Turkey and most recently in Iraq and Israel.
Dr. Greenfield agreed to an email interview with The Jewish Post & News.
Mesopotamia is the geographic region that includes modern day Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan (N. Iraq), SE Syria, and SE Turkey, Dr. Greenfield noted.
“It is located between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris and is bounded by the Zagros mountains to the east and the Taurus mountain range to the north,” she added.
“The citizens of modern-day Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan are the descendants of the ancient Sumerians and Akkadians, Assyrians and Babylonians.”

The Early Dynastic Period (2950-2350 BCE) in S. Mesopotamia is when city-states, with large institutions and text archives, appeared and spread across the landscape, Dr. Greenfield explained.
This is also a time of organized religion “whereby the elite and lower stratum sectors participated in elaborate festivals” dedicated to the patron god of their cities.
“The sacred city of Girsu was an urban religious centre where yearly religious festivals occurred that saw individuals from across the hinterland travel to the city to participate and pay tribute to the patron gods,” she wrote.
“A favissa, (ritual pit) located along the Sacred Way to the temple, yielded a tremendous number of ritual artifacts, including a significant amount of faunal remains.”
Questions about religious behaviours associated with animals and cultic spaces can be understood from the analysis of these animal remains to understand how these citizens organized their religious festivals to satisfy the ever-demanding needs of the gods, Dr. Greenfield observed.
“My research has a holistic approach to building models for the understanding of food production, climatic adaptive strategies, socio-economic, and ritual behaviour, and mobility within, between and across some of the earliest complex ancient societies in the world,” she says.
“As someone who loves history, archaeology allows me to physically be a part of uncovering history in a place that is considered to be the cradle of civilization. This is the first place of writing, organized religion, the arts and sciences, and for that it becomes an extraordinary place to research and learn about.”

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