The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Executions at the Hamam? – Forensic investigations in a shaft well from Medieval Ayasuluk (Turkey)


1Department of Forensic Medicine, Medical University of Vienna, 2Institute for Anatomy, Histology and Embryology, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, 3Center of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Medical University of Vienna, 4Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture, Austrian Academy of Sciences

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Human and nonhuman skeletal remains recovered from a shaft well (1.25 x 1.25 m) of a 15th century Hamam (public steam bath) in Ayasuluk/Ephesus were investigated using osteopathology, forensic anthropology and historic veterinary techniques to clarify circumstances of death and postmortem treatment.

Two males, aged 22 and 36, were identified. The older man was missing his 5th cervical vertebra and the entire cranium, except for fragments of his frontal and parietals. These pieces showed signs of external burning, as did the elbow joints, and were accompanied by signs of peeling. Osteopathological analysis of the younger male revealed an intravital fracture on the right arch of the 5th lumbar vertebra and significant laterality of his glenoid cavity, often observed in swordsmen or archers. Analysis of the animal remains revealed two skeletons in toto, a noble horse, including four iron horseshoes, and a well cared-for dog.

Taphonomic reconstruction revealed all individuals were buried during the same, desecrating event. Reported violent riots at this time and the lack of personal effects such as belts buckles, buttons or similar objects point to politically motivated executions because objects became the property of the executioner.

All of the reported execution methods could be excluded except for strangulation for the younger individual and for hanging, strangulation and decapitation for the older one because of the missing of the 5th cervical vertebra. The signs of bodily mutilation seem to be the result of him being dragged and then his head and elbow being placed in an open fire.

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