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Author Topic: Burial clue to early urban strife  (Read 95 times)
Description: Youths probably killed in a fierce battle 6,000 years ago
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« on: August 31, 2007, 07:45:35 PM »

Ancient Forensics

Archaeologists working in Syria have unearthed the remains of dozens of youths thought to have been killed in a fierce confrontation 6,000 years ago.

According to Science magazine, the celebrating victors may even have feasted on beef in the aftermath.

The findings come from northeastern Syria, near Tell Brak, one of the world's oldest known cities.

More than 30 years of continuous excavation have revealed the site's remarkable sophistication.

A third paper, due to be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Iraq, details the burials at Tell Majnuna, 0.5km from the main urban site at Tell Brak.

Two mass burial pits have been excavated at this site. The first has so far revealed the bones of 34 young to middle-aged adults. Thus far, only a small portion have been excavated.

"There could be hundreds and potentially thousands," said Augusta McMahon, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, UK.

At least two skulls show signs of injuries that could have caused death. The absence of feet and hand bones and the fact that many of the skulls apparently rolled off when they were tossed in the pit hints that they were left to decompose before burial.

A mass of pottery, mostly vessels for serving and eating, along with cow bones were also found lying on top of the skeletons.

The experts interpret this as evidence for a large feast, according to the news report in Science.

A second mass burial pit has been found about 12m away. At least 28 individuals have been uncovered from this location.

Science 31 August 2007:
Vol. 317. no. 5842, p. 1188
DOI: 10.1126/science.1138728

Early Urban Development in the Near East

Jason A. Ur,1* Philip Karsgaard,2 Joan Oates3

It has been thought that the first cities in the Near East were spatially extensive and grew outward from a core nucleated village while maintaining a more or less constant density in terms of persons or households per unit of area. The general applicability outside of the Near East of this southern Mesopotamian.derived model has been questioned recently, and variations from it are increasingly recognized. We can now demonstrate that such variation was present at the beginnings of urbanism in the Near East as well.

1 Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, 11 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
2 Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Old High School, Infirmary Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LT, UK.
3 McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:

Volume: 81  Number: 313  Page: 585�600
Early Mesopotamian urbanism: a new view from the north
#Joan Oates1, Augusta McMahon2, Philip Karsgaard3, Salam Al Quntar4 and Jason Ur5

1The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK (Email: ) 2Department of Archaeology, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, UK (Email: ) 3Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Old High School, Infirmary Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LT, UK (Email: ) 4Department of Archaeology, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, UK (Email: ) 5Department of Anthropology, Harvard University Peabody Museum, 11 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138, USA (Email: )

For many years, the southern Mesopotamia of Ur and Uruk, ancient Sumer, has been seen as the origin centre of civilisation and cities: �The urban implosion of late-fourth- and early-third-millennium Mesopotamia resulted in a massive population shift into large sites� said Nissen in 1988. �These new city-states set the pattern for Mesopotamia as the heartland of cities� (Adams 1981; Yoffee 1998). And for Stone & Zimansky (2005) �Remains of the world's first cities are the most noteworthy feature of the landscape in southern Iraq�. But at Tell Brak Joan Oates and her team are turning this model upside down. A long campaign of study, culminating in the new discoveries from 2006 reported here, show that northern Mesopotamia was far along the road to urbanism, as seen in monumentality, industrialisation and prestige goods, by the late fifth millennium BC. The �world's earliest cities� are as likely to have been in north-eastern Syria as southern Iraq, and the model of a core from the south developing a periphery in the north is now ripe for revision.

Tell Brak

Since 2006, Augusta McMahon has been Field Director of the Tell Brak Excavation.

Tell Brak is one of the largest ancient sites in northern Mesopotamia, with occupation from at least the 6th millennium BC (if not earlier) through the later 2nd millennium BC (with subsequent less massive settlements of Hellenistic, Roman, and Islamic date). Tell Brak was first explored by Sir Max Mallowan (husband of Agatha Christie) in the 1930s; excavations were re-started by Prof. David Oates and Dr Joan Oates in 1976.

The current phase of research at Tell Brak aims to explore two transitional episodes in Mesopotamian political and social history: developing early social complexity and urbanism in the 5th -4th millennium BC and the shift from territorial state to early empire in the 2nd millennium BC (the growth and collapse of Samsi-Addu's kingdom and the rise of the Mitanni empire). In the most recent excavation seasons, we have begun to uncover two neighbourhoods occupied during the 2nd millennium BC, which allow insight into the use of space and access routes within the settlement, and into the relationship of private houses to the previously-excavated Mitanni Palace and temple. This part of the project links to Augusta McMahon's previous work co-directing excavations in early 2nd millennium BC levels at Brak's neighbour Chagar Bazar (1999�2002). We have also reached levels of the late 5th millennium BC at Brak and exposed an industrial area adjacent to a monumental administrative building, near one of the site's gateways. This area is providing rich data for study of early urban economy, especially the production of ceramics and obsidian and flint tools.

At the same time, we have begun to explore a unique mass burial�probably the aftermath of warfare�from the early�mid-4th millennium BC on the outskirts of the site, roughly contemporary with the site's expansion to urban proportions. These separate excavations all tie into our exploration of larger issues of the creation and maturation of past urban landscapes, for which Tell Brak provides a great depth of data.

Financial support for recent excavation seasons of the Brak Project has been generously provided by the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration, Newnham College, University of Cambridge Travel Fund and the Society of Antiquaries of London. Cambridge students and scholars are the best represented on the team, but it is an international research group, currently involving British, American, Danish, Italian, Palestinian, Polish and Syrian students and colleagues.

Tags: archaeology Syria Mesopotamia 
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