Pages 6

In 1992 and 1993, I enjoyed the privilege of spending two summers doing archaeological eldwork and research at the site of ancient Carthage, one of the centers of early Latin Christianity in the western Roman Empire. As an anthropologist of religion interested in cultural beliefs about the afterlife as expressed in the seemingly disparate spheres of visionary experience and death ritual, I was drawn to Carthage by the fascinating accounts I had read from early Christian North Africa of near-death visionary journeys to heaven, graveside banquets, and healing miracles at saints’ tombs. Carthage, it seemed, had been a center not only of dream and visionary experience, but also of early Christian ancestor cult-–a set of ritual observances reecting the ancient belief that the deceased continued in some fashion after death to inhabit their mortal remains in the tomb. How, I wondered, might cultural conceptions of the afterlife have developed and evolved at the intersection of the visionary and funerary realms in early Christian North Africa? What archaeological evidence might have survived which could aid in reconstructing beliefs and rituals related to the afterlife in the early North African church?