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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9 Responses to Rich Assyrian grave found beneath the floor in Operation M.

  1. Jennifer Walborn says:

    This is AMAZING! I don’t see much in the literature about facedown burials. If you need an osteologist, here I am!

    • matney says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      We all wish you were here to help out. There were a few other burials as well that we are still working on, including two children buried under a later floor of the Operation M building. The finds are really interesting from this burial as well; I’ll put up some pictures soon. In fact, we have Assyrians buried in all the operations this year, except OpW, which was the one place we expected to find a burial!

      Best,
      Tim.

  2. Paul Givargidze says:

    Terrific update! Thank you. Any plans on attempting to DNA test the remains?

    • matney says:

      Hi Paul,

      No plans in the immediate future for running any aDNA tests, although the preservation of the bones is good enough that I expect we would be able to get some results. My experience with Early Bronze Age skeletal remains and aDNA from another site is that one really needs a good sized population to interpret the results. Here at Ziyaret Tepe, we have only a few dozen burials – and many of those in poor condition. We need a larger skeletal population. It would be interesting, of course, if we also had comparative populations for aDNA analysis from the Assyrian heartland in northern Iraq, as well as from contemporary Iron Age populations located in southeastern Turkey away from the river’s floodplain.

  3. Stuart Nealis says:

    Hi Tim,

    Great to follow the dig again this year, always exciting finds. Are you planning on doing any stable isotope analysis, such as C/N or Sr?

    Best,

    Stuart

    • matney says:

      Hi Stuart,
      It’s a good idea. We have someone interested in isotope analysis of the animal bones, but not for the humans. Now that we are building up a good population of Assyrians, it might make sense to have someone come in to take samples. I’ll let you know what we manage to arrange.
      Best, Tim.

  4. Have enjoyed reading this whole story. I once worked at Tille Huyuk and found a similar pebble mosaic surface as well. ( late 1980s)

    Fabulous work, well presented. This is in part what I would like to ask. As I co-edit the Past Horizons online magazine. and would love to collate an article from this with a link to this website for our readers to explore themselves.

    Would this be acceptable … would need to get permission for 3-4 images as well.

    many thanks

    David Connolly

    • matney says:

      Hi David,

      There are many similarities between Tille and Ziyaret, as you know. The mosaics are quite striking from both sites. We use Tille as an important source for our interpretations of Ziyaret.
      It has been our policy since the beginning of the project to encourage the widespread, open dissemination of information about Ziyaret Tepe and our work. The blog is a part of this program of public education. Of course it would be more that acceptable if you wanted to collate an article for Past Horizons and link our blog/website! I’m certain we can work out all the details for such a project. Let’s follow up on this via email correspondence. I’m very pleased to learn of your interest and look forward to working together.

      Best,
      Tim.

  5. Maria says:

    Nobody berry person face down…… It must be he was in coma while berried , then woke in the grave and saffocated,
    Or quite possible,, some dead turn in their graves………mystery but its happen

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