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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 8:20 EDT

Elephant’s Tomb May Have Originally Been Mithras Temple

May 11, 2013
This is the interior of the Tomb of the Elephant. Image Credit: University Pablo Olavide

April Flowers for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

In the Roman necropolis of Carmona in Seville, Spain, there is a structure known as the Elephant´s Tomb. A new study from the University of Pablo de Olavide reveals the structure was not always used for burials. They suggest the original structure, and a window through which the sun shines directly during the equinoxes, indicate the Elephant´s Tomb was a temple of Mithraism, an unofficial religion in the Roman Empire. The study´s findings, published in the journal Archivo español de arqueología, are supported by the position of Taurus and Scorpio during the equinoxes.

Built between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD, the Carmona necropolis in Spain is a collection of funeral structures, which includes the Elephant´s Tomb. The Tomb was named for an elephant shaped statue found in the interior of the structure.

Archaeologists have debated the origin and function of the construction. The current team of researchers conducted a detailed analysis of the structure, leading them to suggest it may not have originally been used for burials but for worshiping the god Mithras. In the early centuries of our era, the worship of Mithras was an unofficial religion widespread throughout the Roman Empire.

The team has identified four stages of renovation for the Elephant´s Tomb, with different uses at different times.

“In some stages, it was used for burial purposes, but its shape and an archaeoastronomical analysis suggest it was originally designed and built to contain a Mithraeum [temple to Mithras],” explained Inmaculada Carrasco.

During the first stage of their studies, Carrasco and Alejandro Jimenez focused on a window in the main chamber built during the first stage of construction. Previous studies indicated the window´s purpose was not to provide light. Instead, it had a symbolic and spiritual purpose.

“From our analysis of the window, we have deduced that it was positioned so that the rays of the sun reached the center of the chamber during the equinoxes, in the spring and autumn, three hours after sunrise” explains Carrasco.

They suggest the moment the sun reached the center of the chamber; it illuminated a statue of the tauroctony that has since been lost. The tauroctony is a statue of Mithras slaying a sacred bull. During the winter and summer solstices, the sun through the window would light up the north and south walls, respectively.

The Mithraics gave considerable importance to the constellations, and the position of the heavenly bodies at that time in the 2nd century reinforces the theory the building was constructed for Mithraic worship. During the spring equinox sunrise, Taurus rises to the East and Scorpio hides to the West. During the autumn equinox, the opposite occurs.

Mithraics had a special affinity for Taurus and Scorpio. This is evidenced in the main image of tauroctony, which is the god Mithras slaying a bull while a scorpion stings the animal´s testicles. Other constellations, including Aquarius, Orion and Leo, were also of significance in this religion, appearing in the path of the sun during the equinoxes and solstices of the 2nd century.

According to the researchers, although the Moon had a secondary role to the Mithraics, it may have lit up the face of Mithras during a full moon on nights near the equinoxes.

The architecture of the original building, apart from the window, has similarities to other Mithraic constructions.

Carrasco explained it is “an underground structure, with a room divided into three chambers, with a shrine or altar illuminated by the window at the head. The presence of a fountain is also highly significant as these are commonly found in the Mithraeums.”

After the structure was used as a Mithraic temple, it was renovated three times, giving the building new functions more in line with a necropolis. During the renovations, a burial chamber was built and then the roof was removed, leaving open courtyards. Finally, it was filled with rubble and used as a burial area.

Some researchers object to the theory the Elephant´s Tomb was a Mithraic temple because it is in a necropolis, which is an uncommon site for such temples. They were more often found in domestic, urban or rural environments.

“A similar case is that of Sutri (Italy) where the Mithraeum is on the outskirts of the town. The structure in Carmona is in a multi-purpose space, next to the Via Augusta which connected Cadiz to Rome, close to the amphitheater and the circus, and consequently its position should not be considered an objection,” says Jiménez.


Source: April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online