The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)


From piles of bones to coffin-boxes: Making sense of commingled and fragmented human remains from the Middle/Late Bronze Age Tomb VII, Qatna (Tell Mishrife, Syria)

SUSANNE DEGENHARDT1,2, STEFAN FLOHR1,3, HEIKE DOHMANN-PFÄLZNER2, PETER PFÄLZNER2 and CARSTEN WITZEL1.

1Department of Biology, University of Hildesheim, Germany, 2Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES), Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, Germany, 3State Office for Cultural Heritage and Archaeology Thuringia, Germany

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In 2009, an undisturbed double-chambered tomb (Tomb VII) of approximately 32m2 ground area was discovered underneath the west wing of the Middle Bronze Age royal palace of Qatna, Syria. The assemblage was dominated by human skeletal remains that were intermingled with various grave goods, a few animal bones, and soil. The entire floor was covered with scattered bones and bone fragments, up to a height of 44cm. Thus far, 7100 human bones and bone fragments from an estimated MNI of 78 are documented. Bone concentrations and remnants of wooden structures suggest that the remains had originally been stored in wooden coffin-boxes.

Recording both the archeological and anthropological findings of such a complex assemblage in a limited time required the development of a new protocol to document and recover the remains. We present the results of the investigations for the content of one of the assumed coffin-box (installation 3248) based on the new protocol.

The coffin-box was located in the southern chamber of the tomb. Distinct layers could not be distinguished. Bones in the uppermost portion of the deposition were highly fragmented and commingled, whereas underneath the degree of fragmentation decreased and joining elements were exposed. On the bottom of the installation two complete skeletons in anatomically correct position could be recorded. In total, an MNI of ten was estimated for this installation. It is assumed that the coffin-box was first used for regular burials and later for secondary burials of disarticulated parts of bodies.

The project is financially supported by DFG (Grant-No. PF 275/9-2).

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