Pilgrimage in Abu Mina

Travelers walked with one destination in mind, Abu Mina (Figure 1). Rumors foretold Abu Mina’s mythical healing powers which grew the attention of travelers from all over. The stories mentioned magical flasks that would somehow heal the sick and broken. These long adventures the sick and misfortuned took to reach this site connected their stories. No matter where they came from, wherever in the world, this journey was universal for so many. This may have created a sort of spiritual connection amongst all who took this pilgrimage. 

Figure 1 – Abu Mina’s Great Basilica. Photograph by Iris Fernandez (2009) 

The journey taken was one involving Menas Flasks (Figure 2) which derived power from Saint Menas. Menas was executed due to his faith, and his unchangeable faith may have given him a sort of magic quality (Anderson 2007). His power led to many miracles. 

Figure 2 – Flask of St. Menas. Photo by The Walter Arts Museum (2014) 

One miracle tells a story of a worker who was killed when the roof of a church fell onto him, his body was placed before the Saint’s relics, and the Saint resurrected the worker (Beshir 13). His relics became a sought after wonder that sparked a pilgrimage.

Another miracle is the story of a blind man whose sight could not be restored. This was until he reached the relics of the Saint and sent out prayers, and his sight was restored to him (Beshir 13-14). These stories sparked hope in the pilgrims that followed them, and though some may think that’s foolish, others may argue that’s the essence of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage involves following by faith, and faith is not guided by things that are easily proven.

 The world is a large place, and even with that, there are connections everywhere that unite us. The pilgrimage taken was for a miracle that could not have been proven, but it incited a stark hope in those that took the journey. Pilgrimage was seen as a religious requirement for some to find their salvation, so this in addition to the miracles could have been some of the most important aspects of their life on Earth. It was possible that without this pilgrimage, they may have never felt that they could have been saved, and they may have never built connections through their faith in such a widespread way.

A beauty of pilgrimage is that it can hold many different interpretations of the same event or place, and these different views don’t have to go well together, they can exist in their own places of the same world. Yet, at the same time, they coexist to create a beautiful blend of ideas in possibilities for the past, that all can better help us understand the events of our present. 


Anderson, William. “Menas flasks in the West: pilgrimage and trade at the end of antiquity.” Ancient West & East 6 (2007): 221-243.


Beshir, Victor. “The Discovery of a Christian Pilgrimage Center in the Western Desert of Egypt.” 


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Additional Links:

Rodziewicz, Mieczyslaw D. “Supplement to the Article Philoxenité‒Pilgrimage Harbour of Abu Mina BSAA 47, 2003, 27-47.” Bulletin de la Société archéologique d’Alexandrie 49, no. 1 (2015): p-195. 


Collins-Kreiner, Noga. “Researching pilgrimage: Continuity and transformations.” Annals of tourism research 37, no. 2 (2010): 440-456.


Pollen: One Man’s Allergen, Another Man’s Treasure

Pollen, Really? 

Palynology is defined as “The study and analysis of fossil pollen as an aid to the reconstruction of past vegetation and climates” (Renfrew & Bahn, 2018). Pollen is useful in the archaeological sense as it can give us an idea of the many different climatic changes that the same area may go through over a large period of time. 

What’s the Shanidar Cave?

Located in Kurdish Iraq, the Shanidar Cave was home to one very peculiar Neanderthal. This Neanderthal was excavated from the site and then examined. Oddly enough, his skull was found to be severely damaged, and his arms and legs were found to show some resemblance of deformities (The Kurdish Project, n.d.). His skeletal remains intrigued archaeologists and so that site came to be something of interest. 

Figure 1 – Outside View of Shanidar Cave

Palynology in Shanidar Cave

Pollen can provide insight into the biological composition of an area or the area that surrounds it. In the case of the Shanidar Cave, palynologists were determined to see what we can learn this, and what they found is something noteworthy, perhaps not as intriguing as skeletal remains, but we’re talking about pollen here. 

Pollen research by the School of Natural Science and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University has found that wind and animals have played a substantial part on transportation of pollen from the outside of the cave within: “The cave structure, with a single wide entrance, is likely to facilitate good air circulation, bringing anemophilous pollen into the cave” (Fiacconi & Hunt, 2015). The teams used samples from inside and outside of the cave. These samples ranged from being in animal droppings, from vegetation, to being found within the mountains. These samples went through different tests, such as “Chlorination, acetolysis and density separation” (Fiacconi & Hunt, 2015). The most effective method was density separation. This method helped the researchers to find which locations each source of pollen derived from, and how the pollen may have traveled from one location to another.

Figure 2 – Map of Shanidar Cave

Other pollen related findings in the Shanidar Cave can be seen in the study published by Cambridge University Press. There is a common theory that the Neanderthals of the region had flower burials and their research has shown that that might not be the exact story. However, there were “clumps of pollen grains from adjacent sediments [which] were interpreted as evidence for the intentional placement of flowers with the corpse” (Pomeroy et al., 2020). They found that the Neanderthals had come back to the locations several times “to deposit their dead” (Pomeroy et al., 2020). Clearly, this cave has had some connections to funerary events.

This is merely just a glimpse of what the world of Palynology and the Shanidar Cave have to offer. Provided below will be several links to see a more in depth look at the research discussed and other examples that were not mentioned in this post.


Fiacconi, Marta, Chris O. Hunt, I.D. Campbell, J.S. Carrión, G.M. Coles, K.J. Edwards, C.O. Hunt, et al. “Pollen Taphonomy at Shanidar Cave (Kurdish Iraq): An Initial Evaluation.” Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, September 26, 2015. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0034666715001724#s0025. 

Pomeroy, Emma, Paul Bennett, Chris O. Hunt, Tim Reynolds, Lucy Farr, Marine Frouin, James Holman, Ross Lane, Charles French, and Graeme Barker. “New Neanderthal Remains Associated with the ‘Flower Burial’ at Shanidar Cave: Antiquity.” Cambridge Core, February 18, 2020. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antiquity/article/new-neanderthal-remains-associated-with-the-flower-burial-at-shanidar-cave/E7E94F650FF5488680829048FA72E32A. 

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth edition. Thames & Hudson.

“Shanidar Cave.” The Kurdish Project, June 22, 2015. https://thekurdishproject.org/history-and-culture/kurdish-history/historical-sites-in-kurdistan/shanidar-cave/. 

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