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Carthage unveils 'Young Man of Byrsa'

A corpse buried on Byrsa Hill, above the Gulf of Tunis, is at the heart of a groundbreaking exhibit that opened Friday (October 15th) at the Carthage Museum.

[Mona Yahia] A 19-year-old youth from Carthage is the centrepiece of a first-ever exhibit at the National Museum near Tunis. The story began in 1994 when a tree-planter fell into a grave. French archaeologist Jean-Paul Morel and other researchers determined that the skeleton buried five metres deep on the grounds of the Carthage Museum was that of a young man in the prime of life, aged between 19 and 24 years old.

His bones were more than 2,500 years old. He died sometime in the 6th century BC.

After the surprise discovery, the Tunisian Ministry of Culture transferred the skeletal remains of the ancient Carthaginian to specialised French labs for reconstruction and eventual return to the Carthage Museum in Tunisia.

The re-building process lasted 16 years.

"This is the first time in Arab Maghreb that something like that takes place, i.e. re-constituting and re-creating a skeleton," Tunisian researcher Nessrine Nasser told Magharebia. "This discovery revives Tunisians' hopes of getting to know one of the aspects of their grandfathers from Carthage."

"This Byrsa youth gives us an idea about how man was at that time," Nasser added.

After the Punic young man came back to Tunisia from the French archaeology lab, he was unveiled at an exhibition. The opening attracted a large audience that ranged from scientists and scholars to journalists, students and local arts figures.

"This discovery is very important for those young people who are looking for clear signs and symbols from their history," said Tunisian theatrical director Rajaa Ferhat.

"This is a beautiful exhibition," said Nejiba, a history student. "I encourage young people to visit it because it tells us about our history, the history of our ancestors and what the Phoenicians were like."

Ziad, an employee in the Ministry of Culture, said: "I took my children with me so that they may see this discovery and tell their colleagues about what they saw."

The return of the Byrsa young man to Carthage Museum has an important economic dimension as well; Tunisia's economy relies heavily on tourism.

"The impact on cultural tourism is very important," said Habib Ben Youness, a director of Tunisia's Institute of Heritage. After all, he added, "the re-constitution of a person by 95% is a very rare thing".

To promote this discovery, the Tourism Ministry has launched a large-scale publicity campaign in Europe and at regional hotels, Ben Youness said.

"We're now preparing for the New Year's Eve and are waiting for foreign tourists who will come to discover this young man," he added.

Culture Minister Abd Raouf Basti said that the exhibition demonstrates "the use of all modern and advanced methods in reviving this heritage and using it for the promotion of cultural tourism".

"The exhibition will be good for business," said Mohammed Ali, a young man who works at one of the many stores near the museum that sell archaeological souvenirs.

Another local, Nizar, smiled when he described the "honourable guest," i.e. the Byrsa young man. "I haven't seen this intensive flow of visitors for years," he said. "I hope that trade will see more activity in this area."

"I think they should make small models of that young man who has been re-constituted," said Jalal, the owner of a souvenir store next to the museum. "I think visitors would love it."

Admission to the Carthage Museum is free for students under age 25 who want to see the Byrsa youth, the gems, scarabs, amulets and other items found in his tomb, and a film about how he was "reassembled" after thousands of years. The exhibit runs until March.

The souvenir shops are open year-round.

Author: Mona Yahia | Source: Magharebia [October 21, 2010]

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