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Reconstructing the social, economic and demographic trends of Palmyra's elite from funerary data

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For almost 300 years wealthy Palmyrenes commemorated their deceased with portraits set up in elaborate family tombs. Now we can use this wealth of information to reconstruct the historical trajectories of the city's elite. We present an extensive analysis of over 3500 funerary portraits and other funerary data collected in the Palmyra Portrait Project and contrasted with other sources of data on the city's wealth and status as well as the historical timeline of the region. We examine whether the trends in portrait production can serve as a proxy for i) demographic changes in the city population, ii) social transitions or iii) economic phenomena. The results of the analysis demonstrate that broad historical trends in the portraits concur with our understanding of Palmyrene history, but the more detailed patterns highlight the impact of particular historical events over other ones. In general, the funerary data reflects the continuously changing socio-economic circumstances of the Palmyrene elite more closely than its demographic history. Although the outline of Palmyra's history is known thanks to written sources, large archaeological datasets can provide a backdrop to historical events by evaluating their impact on the communities involved. Thus combining historical and archaeological data enables us to gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the social and economic transitions that past societies underwent over century-long time scales.

OriginalsprogEngelsk
Artikelnummer105432
TidsskriftJournal of Archaeological Science
Vol/bind133
ISSN0305-4403
DOI
StatusUdgivet - sep. 2021

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