A big crowd turned out to hear British archaeologist Tony O’Connor give two richly illustrated lectures about the ancient Mediterranean world. The lectures were offered in association with ASA (Australians Studying Abroad) a tour company offering a wide range of educational tours. Tony is an experienced ASA tour lecturer and his relaxed style made for easy listening, which could well have tempted listeners to study closely the booklet of future tours on offer.

While a tiny falafel cafe is perhaps the only place in Wellington where the word ‘ Phoenician’ is on public display, this is fair enough because the Phoenician civilisation emerged during the Bronze Age in what is now Lebanon. Gradually, its seafarers moved along the eastern Mediterranean and then on to Sicily, Spain and North Africa where Carthage grew to be a mighty city state. Archaeology can only hint at what life was like for the ancient Phoenicians, but there are some traces. Forests of cedar trees were felled for ship building, an alphabet of 22 letters was invented, a deep purple dye made textiles worth their weight in gold, and a multitude of stone towers known as tophets. While these are sometimes bluntly described as evidence of child sacrifice, it is better to see them as the desire to present something precious to the gods, an idea which carried on into Judaism and Christianity.

In his second lecture, Tony said that his interest in Roman mosaics began when he was a boy in England. Described as ‘paintings in stone’ the mosaics of North Africa have stood the test of time, still in good condition and brightly coloured despite being located on the floor. Many tell stories; educational, amusing or as a warning to visitors to behave themselves. Tony O’Connor’s enthusiasm for them and the stories they tell was obvious.

Lois Daish
Member, Friends of Te Papa