Janzur or Zanzur is a beautiful
small village located about 13
km west of the capital Tripoli.
The archaeological cemetery
of Janzur, dating from between the
first and the fourth centuries
AD, consists of several family
and private cemeteries and tombs.
The whole complex was discovered
accidentally in 1958 when cemetery
one (1) was unearthed. Unfortunately,
many of the tombs
were found empty when they were
first discovered; suggesting
they were robbed some time
in the past, probably during
their early days before they
were claimed and subsequently
concealed by mother earth. Currently
the area is still under excavation
and it is possible that several
parts of the complex are still
buried. Owing to the importance
of the finds, the Archaeology
Department in Tripoli has established
Janzur museum to exhibit the
findings. The museum is unique among all Libyan museums, as some parts
of the museum are actually built around the tombs themselves without
moving them from their original place.
Although the tombs are widely
known as the Punic Tombs,
from the type of the tombs,
burial jars and the painted
scenes it appears that the
structures belonged to a
local Libyan Berber culture.
It is a well known fact that
like many others had adopted
the local Berber practices and beliefs
Amon) after their arrival in
Carthage - a city largely populated
natives and some Phoenician
settlers. It is important
therefore to remember that all references to Punic or Phoenician references
in North Africa are in effect references to mixed Berber-Phoencian settlements,
largely dominated by Berber populations.
Some parts of the museum are built around
the actual tombs in their original location.
Jnazur cemeteries were divided into three categories
- Punic Cemeteries: the Punic
cemeteries are the oldest of all
the cemeteries and date from the
first century AD; consisting of family
cemeteries, each of which is made
of a rectangular, open
pit (or hole), with a built-in steps
along one side of the hole for easy
decent to the burial room, dug underneath.
The deceased is always laid to rest
on his or her back, and surrounded
by his or her funerary items:
objects from the deceased's daily
life, such as jars, plates, bottles,
- Punic-Roman Cemeteries: the Roman cemeteries are similar to the
earlier Punic one, except the fact
that the Romans cremated their dead.
They kept the remaining burnt bones in
special jars, which in turn were
placed in similar tombs. Some of these jar containing
the bones were buried under the ground.
These date from the second half of the second century AD.
- Late Roman Cemeteries: the Late Roman cemeteries are basically
holes slightly larger than the body
and about 80cm deep, with the deceased laid
on his back and covered with sand.
These date from the third and the fourth centuries
These early Punic cemeteries shows the side
along one side of the hole, leading to
the actual burial room (inside
the dark hole).
Some of the tombs are sealed.
The Exhibits of Janzur Museum
The items are exhibited in glass cases, numbered
from number 1: for example: Case 1, Case
2, Case3, etc. The contents of each case
are described in a small framed page
(see below), in two languages: Arabic
This case contains funerary items from the western burial of cemetery
15, dating from the second century
AD, including three glass containers
for keeping the remains of the deceased's
bones after cremation; the middle
container still contains some
of the bones; eight clay
dishes, some of which contain the
seal of the maker; five red clay
dishes; and some glass items like
a small perfume bottle (bottom, in
the above photo), a cup, and remains
of broken plates.
Contains a number of local pottery, found in cemetery 15, western
burial, dating to the first and second
centuries AD, including five clay
plates, four flat plates, four small
red-orange-clay plates; and three
red-clay dishes. Similar items were
common to Punic and Roman cemeteries
Contains three large clay jars with lids, dating from the second and
third centuries AD. They were found
in the western burial of cemetery
15. They were used for keeping the
remains of the deceased after cremation.
Also found in the same cemetery seven
special containers for keeping the
deceased 's remains, three of which
are made of glass.
This case houses a collection
of funerary items, including
and eating utensils,
also from the western burial of cemetery 15: five bronze mirrors
(see below, bottom shelf); four bone-pins; 14 oil
lamps decorated with
animals and birds (on two shelves); seven
oil lamps decorated with
mythical themes; and four liquid pitchers
(or jars) (top shelf
of Case 4).
Bronze Mirrors from the bottom shelf
of Case 4.
This case contains about
twenty (20) personal, every-day objects
of the deceased, found in
the northern burial of cemetery 15,
dating from the first and second
centuries AD. The number of objects
found with the deceased varies from
tomb to another, depending on the status and wealth of the deceased.
The objects include glass plates,
a piece of red stone, bronze piece, mirror handles,
parts of two oil lamps, three clay
plates and covers, and three round bronze mirrors.
Three large storage jars, used to store
grain and liquids (water, wine and oil). These jars were in use among
the Berbers of Zuwarah until the 1970s,
after which they began to disappear; and still
are in use among some of the Berbers
of Nafousa Mountain. Normally a large jar,
like one of the above, sits in the corner
of the open court (inside the house),
primarily to keep drinking water cold during the hot
summer period. The introduction of electricity
and fridges in recent decades slowly
put an end to this prehistoric practice.
Similar jars were also found
from several archaeological sites all across the ancient world.
A collection of small jars and
two clay plates, used in the daily life, for water, wine and oil,
some of which are very ancient; all dating from the first and
second centuries AD.
A collection of tableware and cooking pots, used for preparing and serving
various dishes. These items date to various
periods. Three large flat plates from the
first century AD; three medium plates from
the western burial of cemetery 7; 3 clay
cooking pots; four more cooking pots; and
six small plates.
This case contains various make-up tools, from cemetery 7, dating from
the the first century AD, including small
bottles, used for storing kohl and perfume,
and also perhaps for funerary ceremonies,
like offerings; bone pins; seven incense
holders; and various bronze mirrors.
Make up tools: kohl bone sticks.
This case contains
a good collection of oil lamps,
which were widely used in
both homes and temples (as offerings to the gods). Some of these
lamps were made of clay, while other examples are made of bronze.
They were lit using olive oil,
with some salt around the
cotton wick to keep it alight for much longer and thus save on
the consumption of oil. This
means adding salt to the oil lamp makes its energy efficient from
modern standards. Some of
the lamps carry drawings and designs from everyday life and religious
symbols. Also among the collection
are eight bronze coins, dating from between the first
and the third centuries AD.
The following set of photos show some of the wall and ceiling paintings
found in some of the tombs.
The white walls of this unique museum are
covered with paintings, showing various
scenes, including women, men, forests
and various animals: a bull,
a hippopotamus, a lion, a donkey, a wolf,
and an antelope. Some of these scenes
show a lion chasing a donkey, while another
depicting a wolf after a gazelle (see
below). These would indicate the intention
to depict scenes from the daily life
which the deceased probably was expected to
follow in the afterlife. Equally valid,
they could be just pictures of everyday life; but
then one needs to know why they were
in the tomb. The ancient Egyptians often
painted scenes from the afterlife on
the walls of the tombs to aid the soul
of the deceased in its journey into the
The above scene shows a flying infant,
probably to symbolise the soul's
journey through the underworld,
after leaving the body. The souls in North African mythology were
originally represented by birds,
but then with time the wings were applied to
the human body to signify a
- an iconography
which the later schools adopted for
angels. Unlike the
other images (of animals and humans)
found on the walls, the soul or the
angel image was depicted on the ceiling,
together with some flowers, probably
to symbolise the association of the
ceiling with the sky and hence afterlife, in accordance
with the ancient North African belief
in that the dead souls return
Sealing one's fate? Perhaps!
Another scene shows a man carrying what
appears to be a dead body, probably
in preparation for burial or cremation.
As depicted in most of the mosaic panels
and floors found all over Libya, including
in Apollonia, Alathrun, Cyrene, Leptis
Magna, Zliten and Sabratha, hunting wild
animals was a common theme. Hunting is
an ancient activity going back to the
period when humans were still hunter-gatherers,
before the realisation of agriculture.
It appears that in some cultures,
like the Roman's, hunting was developed
into a popular sport, which brings
the question of whether the above
victim, clearly covered in blood,
was actually butchered by a wild
A man wearing Libyan clothes, similar to the traditional
clothes still used today, including the white
Leaving The Museum.