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

A Tale of Two Tombs: Craniosynostoses from the Bronze-Age city of Qatna (Tell Mishrife, Syria)


1Paleoanthropology, Department of Early Prehistory and Quarternary Ecology, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, Germany, 2Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoecology (HEP), Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, Germany, 3Department of Biology, University of Hildesheim, Germany, 4Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES), Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, Germany, 5Department of Archaeological and Natural Sciences, State Office for Cultural Heritage and Archaeology Thuringia, Weimar, Germany

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Craniosynostosis is a rarely occurring premature obliteration of cranial sutures. Well-preserved cases are extremely rare in the archaeological record. Here we present two specimens likely exhibiting this condition, which were found in the “Royal Hypogeum” and Tomb VII, two rock cut tombs discovered underneath the Royal Palace of the Bronze-Age city of Qatna, Syria, one of the most important cities of the region in the 2nd millennium BCE. The tombs were excavated between 2002 and 2010 by a team from the University of Tuebingen, Germany.

External examination and Computed Tomography of the two crania revealed indications for craniosynostosis. A well preserved adult cranium (q1235-401) from Tomb VII exhibits a distinct turri-/ oxycephaly. It is assumed that premature obliteration of the sagittal and the coronal sutures is responsible for the deviant shape of the cranium. Additional signs, supporting the diagnosis of craniosynostosis, are abnormal thinning of the bones of the cranial vault (< 1 mm), in both parietals and a distinct beaten-copper-pattern on the internal surface of the frontal bone. The second cranium (MSH02G q1076) is from a 14-16 year old individual from the Royal Hypogeum. Parts of the sagittal suture exhibit beginning premature obliteration.

Considering the very low incidence of craniosynostosis and its congenital nature, the discovery of a possible case in each tomb could represent a long-sought link between the two separate tombs. It is suggested that these individuals might be related and that members of the same royal or elite family were buried in both tombs.

Research supported by DFG INST 37/706-1

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