Human sacrifices surround ancient Mesopotamian tomb

Eight human sacrifices were found at the entrance of the grave, that the remains of two 12-year-olds from ancient Mesopotamia. Credit: Photo by permission of the Ba sur Höyük Research Project; Antiquity 2018

About 5000 years ago, the Mesopotamians buried two 12-year-olds — a boy and a girl — and surrounded their slender bodies with hundreds of bronze spearheads and what appears to be eight human sacrifices, a new study found.

The eight human sacrifices were placed, just outside the tomb, located on the site of Basur Höyük, in southeast Turkey, one of the researchers said. The team has determined that the age of six of the human sacrifice and found that the victims ranged in age from 11 to 20 years old.

These two 12-year-olds, together with the eight human sacrifices, “had been deposited in a single case, and furnished with an unprecedented number of high-status grave goods for the period and the region,” the researchers wrote in a study published online yesterday (28 June) in the journal Antiquity.

The mysterious tomb was discovered in 2014, said that the study of the two researchers, Brenna Hassett, a post-doctoral researcher of archaeology at the Natural History Museum in London, and Haluk Sağlamtimur, an archaeology professor at the Ege University in Izmir, Turkey. [25 Cultures Who Practiced Human Sacrifice]

The remains of an adult were also found in addition to the two children, but that body could have come from an earlier burial that was mixed with the two 12-year-olds, Hassett told Live Science.

And although the evidence is not 100 percent clear, scientists are pretty sure that the eight people were sacrificed.

“While we only have evidence for violent trauma on two of the skeletons, it is important to remember that the violent death does not always leave a mark on the skeleton,” Hassett said. “As a grim example, puncture wounds are normally aimed at the soft parts of the body, that does not retain.”

She added that “the careful arrangement and placement of the bodies outside the door to the main room, it seems that all eight would have been retainer sacrifices.” The term ‘retainer sacrifice’ refers to people who were sacrificed so that they can assist or serve others to the afterlife.

The human sacrifices were buried with textiles, beads and ceramics.

Mysterious sacrifices

The discovery leaves archaeologists with a series of mysteries. Who were the two 12-year-olds who seem to be the focus of the funeral? Were they sacrificed? What’s more, why is human sacrifice performed at all on this site?

“Unfortunately, the maintenance was not great, inside the room, so we have no evidence that the [two 12-year-old children were sacrificed,” Hassett said. But because the two 12-year-olds received an elaborate funeral, it turns out that they must have “an important background status,” Hassett and Sağlamtimur wrote in the study.

Archaeologists know that the human sacrifice was also found at other places in Mesopotamia, including a nearby site called Arslantepe, which also dates back to about 5000 years ago.

“One thought is, that what we are witnessing at Basur Höyük is a part of a phenomenon we see in other societies around the world, where power is consolidated in a more structured, formal hierarchy; what archaeologists call the ‘old member states’, the Hassett said.

“Maybe [what] we are seeing is a display of power by an increasingly hierarchical society; the power to get rid of great wealth and even people — perhaps the same sort of strength that you need to show to the construction of a state-like society,” Hassett said. “It is a fascinating puzzle which will hopefully tell us more about how human societies form and change.”

In the future, the team is planning to do stable isotope analysis (a type of research that gives information about the place of birth and diet of the deceased) and DNA-studies on the skeletons.

Original article on Live Science.


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