Rich Assyrian grave found beneath the floor in Operation M.

The excavation of the large building in Operation M took a very interesting and exciting turn on Wednesday when Kemalettin discovered a burial under the earlier of two floors in the large building in Operation M. The burial, officially labelled M-134, was parallel to the western wall of the room.

Excavation of burial M-134 is just starting in the center foreground of this picture. You can see that the grave soil, dark brown in color, contrasts with the rest of the trench.

Kemalettin gently excavating around one of the two ceramic vessels found in M-134.

 A single body, identified by Tina as a male, at least in his 40s if we can judge by the fusion of the sutures in his skull and the wear on his teeth. The primary means we have of aging skeletons is by the patterns of tooth eruptions in younger individuals, the fusion of the epiphyses of long bones and the sutures of the skulls. For older adults, we rely on less precise measures, such as the wear on teeth and the ends of ribs. Given that the cusps of the molars of our body were worn nearly flat, it wouldn’t surprise me if he turns out to be in his 50s. He was quite tall with very robust bones. All of these are preliminary field observations; the skeleton awaits study.

The skeleton during the process of cleaning. The bones are in good condition and clearly articulated. The face-down orientation is unusual.

Buried with the body were a number of small finds, of which we are still taking initial photographs and notes. Included in the grave were two ceramic vessels, one in each hand, which contained dozens of beads, a bronze fibula, and a frit cylinder seal. He had a long, white stone pendant and what appears to be an iron pendant or possibly a blade or tool around his neck. He had a bronze ornament near his right elbow. The grave contained quite a few stone beads, including a banded black and white stone, as well as carnelian, that were probably part of the decoration of his clothing. Also found loose in the grave were a second cylinder seal, this one with bronze caps, and a stone pendant.

Stone pendant ZT42154, shown here prior to cleaning and conservation, was found under the chest of the skeleton. This pendant is scratched and was found adjacent to an iron object, possibly a blade. It may have served as a whetstone, but that is purely speculative at this point. A full investigation into the grave goods has begun.

One very curious element of burial M-134 is the positioning of the body. This man was buried with his body streched out, but face down, with the grave goods underneath him. This is highly unusual for an Assyrian burial; it’s hard to come up with many parallels right now. We’re not sure of the significance of the body position, but it is clear that this was an individual of some importance, given the wealth of material which accompanied him. The skeleton was articulated so it is clear that the deposition of the body in this manner was deliberate.

Details to follow as we process the grave goods and further investigate this surprising discovery.

About matney

Dr. Matney is Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology and Classical Studies at the University of Akron. He is the Director of the Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Expedition.
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