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DAVIS, Nathan.

Inscriptions in the Phoenician Character,

now deposited in the British Museum, discovered on the site of Carthage, during researches … at the expense of Her Majesty's Government, in the years 1856, 1857, and 1858.

London: Printed by Order of the Trustees, 1863 Stock Code: 138060
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Trailblazing excavations at Carthage

First and sole edition, uncommon; an important record of the Punic stelae unearthed by one of the most remarkable figures in 19th century archaeology, the little known Nathan Davis (1819-1882), "clergyman, adventurer and snake-handler extraordinaire" (Freed), who conducted pioneering excavations at Carthage in the late 1850s, preceding the work of his French counterparts Charles Ernest Beulé and Alfred Louis Delattre.

Davis was a Jewish convert to Protestantism who early in life worked as a missionary in Tunisia and became well acquainted with the country. However, he was no dry sermonizer, his biographer, Joann Freed, describing him as "active and aggressive", enjoying "rough travel, riding, and guns" (ODNB). He befriended the bey of Tunis and was lent the use of his house at La Marsa, the old summer capital, where he entertained, among others, Gustave Flaubert, whose Salammbô (1862) is set in ancient Carthage. "In the summer of 1856 Davis wrote to Lord Clarendon, the British foreign secretary, offering to excavate Punic remains at Carthage at a cost of 1000 per year. At the British Museum Antonio Panizzi supported him, since Davis had the bey's permission. The Foreign Office funded Davis's project, although aware that the French would feel their interests threatened. Davis started excavation at Carthage in November 1856, at first with little result. He excavated the mosaic of the months and seasons, his first major find, in January 1857, and developed the method of lifting mosaics that continues to be used. He moved around Carthage frenetically, and was pleased to find a site that produced ninety Punic votive stelae. By early 1858 Davis had dug thirty-one sites, including two Roman villas at Gammarth, several miles to the north. The Foreign Office arranged transport of Davis's finds with the Admiralty, but Panizzi was unenthused, as they were mostly Roman mosaics, too bulky for the overcrowded museum" (ibid.).

Davis's finds were written up by W. S. W. Vaux, a curator at the British Museum whose specialisms were numismatics and the antiquities of the Near East, his work comprising a transliteration of the stelae into Hebrew characters with Latin translation. The plates were lithographed by Joseph Netherclift, a pioneer of facsimile using lithography (in 1829 awarded a prize of 20 shillings by the Society of Arts for "his improved method of making lithographic transfers"; see also Michael Twyman, Early Lithographed Books).

Provenance: signature of Carole Mendleson to front free endpaper and her neat penciled numberings below each image, corresponding to British Museum registration numbers; Mendleson is the author of Catalogue of Punic Stelae in the British Museum (2003).

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Landscape folio. Original dark slate-green pebble-grain cloth, blind paneling to both covers, gilt lettered on the front cover.


32 plates showing 90 inscriptions, lithographed by Joseph Netherclift, each with accompanying leaf of letterpress.


Binding professionally refurbished, with particular attention to spine and corners, front free endpaper and title page lightly creased. A very good copy, clean and square.


Joann Freed, Bringing Carthage Home: The Excavations of Nathan Davis, 1856-1859, Oxford, Oxbow Books, 2011.


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