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

Bioarchaeology of an Early Bronze Age mortuary complex at Tell Umm el-Marra, Syria


Division of Social Sciences, Mt. Hood Community College

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From 2000 to 2006, excavations of an Early Bronze Age, elite mortuary complex at Tell Umm el-Marra, Syria, have yielded human skeletal remains of at least 35 individuals buried over the course of about three centuries (ca. 2500--2200 BC). The author collected standard bioarchaeological data from the remains recovered up through the 2006 field season. Results of preliminary analyses of the data are reported here, and future research directions are considered. The assemblage represents at least 35 individuals---19 adults and 16 juveniles---and general preservation is good. Of the adults, males and females are equally represented. Most juveniles are neonates and were frequently buried with equid skeletons in separate installations outside the tombs. Overall, individuals exhibit good dental health with few caries or evidence of periodontal disease. Periostitis is the most common pathological lesion, and two individuals exhibit cribra orbitalia. One interesting case of paleopathology is an adolescent with extensive osteoporosis. Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios, derived from skeletal and dental collagen, support archaeobotanical evidence for a diet based heavily on cereal grains and ovicaprids. The presence/absence of dental nonmetric traits may reflect some relatedness of individuals buried within the complex. Although the small sample size limits interpretation of these results, future excavation and analyses (ancient DNA) could provide more information on the biology of the elites (and, perhaps, nonelites) buried during a period of development at the site and urbanism in western Syria.

This research was funded by NSF Grant BCS-0545610 and the National Geographic Society.

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