Mithraism under the microscope: new revelations about rituals through micromorphology, histotaphonomy and zooarchaeology

Sarah Lo Russo, David Brönnimann, Sabine Deschler-Erb, Christa Ebnöther, Philippe Rentzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This paper is the first to use an innovative multi-proxy approach to obtain insights into hitherto unknown Mithraic cult
practices. Using soil micromorphology, zooarchaeology and histotaphonomy, we investigated two mithraea (Biesheim FR,
Kempraten CH) and one cult cave (Zillis CH). This was also the first study to include micromorphological and histotaphonomic
approaches within the context of Mithraic research. The systematic evaluation of thermal alteration and bioerosion
(in particular bacterial attack) on the animal bones, in combination with zooarchaeological results, allows a differentiation
between various (cult) practices involving animals. Thanks to the micromorphological investigations, it was possible to
demonstrate that repeatedly spreading combustion residues and renewing the floor were important parts of the cult practices
of Mithraism. Our results suggest that a cult practice consisting of several stages was carried out on all three sites. Our study
highlights that multiple floor constructions as well as the related sediments and (micro-) artefacts of cultic indoor features
are important sources of information.
Original languageEnglish
Article number46
Number of pages21
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Volume14
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Keywords

  • Roman Mithraism · Micromorphology · Histotaphonomy · Zooarchaeology · Mithraeum · Cult cave

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