Al­ge­ria’s pyra­mid tombs still shrouded in mys­tery

China Daily - - WORLD -

TIARET — Dat­ing back cen­turies, Al­ge­ria’s pyra­mid tombs are unique relics of an an­cient era but a dearth of re­search has left the Jed­dars shrouded in mys­tery.

The 13 mon­u­ments, whose square stone bases are topped with an­gu­lar mounds, are perched on a pair of hills near the city of Tiaret, nearly 250 kilo­me­ters south­west of the cap­i­tal Al­giers.

Con­structed be­tween the fourth and sev­enth cen­turies, the tombs are be­lieved by some schol­ars to have been built as fi­nal rest­ing places for Ber­ber roy­alty — although no­body knows who truly was buried in them.

But Al­ge­rian au­thor­i­ties and ar­chae­ol­o­gists are now push­ing to get the Jed­dars listed as a UN­ESCO World Her­itage site, in the hope of as­sur­ing their preser­va­tion and study.

Gain­ing such sta­tus is a lengthy process and the Cul­ture Min­istry said Al­ge­ria’s ap­pli­ca­tion to the UN body “will be filed dur­ing the first quar­ter of 2020”.

Ex­perts from the Na­tional Cen­ter for Pre­his­toric, An­thro­po­log­i­cal and His­tor­i­cal Re­search have for more than a year been pre­par­ing their case for the Jed­dars.

The goal is to “pre­serve this her­itage, which is of im­mea­sur­able value and an an­ces­tral legacy”, said Mustapha Dor­bane, a pro­fes­sor at Al­giers 2 Univer­sity’s Ar­chae­ol­ogy In­sti­tute.

When the Jed­dars were built, Ber­ber kings ruled the area in small fief­doms whose his­tory is poorly known and of which few traces were left.

It was a pe­riod of great un­rest for the for­mer Ro­man prov­ince of Nu­midia, as Rome’s western em­pire col­lapsed, Van­dal and Byzan­tine troops in­vaded, and Arab forces stormed across North Africa.

For cen­turies, these far-flung mon­u­ments sat largely ig­nored, left to the rav­ages of time and loot­ers.

But more re­cently a group of around 20 ar­chae­ol­ogy stu­dents and their teach­ers has been work­ing at the mon­u­ments.

Mov­ing slowly, they made note of van­dal­ized sec­tions and used wa­ter and brushes to gen­tly clean stoneen­graved sym­bols be­fore mea­sur­ing them.

It was a metic­u­lous task, as each en­try may take up­ward of two hours to com­plete.

Al­ge­rian ar­chae­ol­o­gist Rachid Ma­houz, who has spent five years writ­ing a doc­toral the­sis about the tombs, de­plores the lack of re­search de­voted to the coun­try’s “won­ders”.

“The French archives on the Jed­dars are not avail­able and the ob­jects and bones found dur­ing the colo­nial era were taken to France,” said Ma­houz, who was born nearby.

Ar­chae­ol­ogy was not taught at Al­ge­rian uni­ver­si­ties un­til the early 1980s, and un­til now, no spe­cialty on fu­ner­ary mon­u­ments was of­fered.

The re­search team has been work­ing on Jed­dar A, which sits on Mount Lakhdar along with mon­u­ments B and C.

The re­main­ing Jed­dars are on a hill­top about 6 km away, Mount Arouri, and are known by the let­ters D through M.

Each con­tains at least one room, with the largest mound giv­ing way to a labyrinth of 20 com­part­ments, in­clud­ing fu­ner­ary cham­bers.

Some rooms are equipped with benches, ar­eas re­searchers be­lieve may have been used for wor­ship.

In­side the tombs, tra­di­tional Chris­tian sym­bols as well as hunt­ing scenes and an­i­mal fig­ures are carved above the doors.

Traces of in­scrip­tions be­lieved to be Latin mark the walls, but time has ren­dered them un­read­able.

Among the lay­ers of his­tory, re­searchers say they have also found Greek let­ters — although oth­ers dis­pute this.

The Jed­dars were built sev­eral cen­turies after other im­pos­ing preIs­lamic fu­ner­ary mon­u­ments, which are found in present day north­ern Al­ge­ria, mak­ing them the last of their kind to be erected be­fore the ar­rival of Is­lam.

“The most dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of the Jed­dars is by far the date of their con­struc­tion,” said Ma­houz, the ar­chae­ol­o­gist.

The mon­u­ments show the evo­lu­tion of burial prac­tices in the area. From sim­ple mounds of earth and stone, known as tu­muli, to stonewalled tombs called baz­i­nas.

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