Earliest evidence of child sacrifice in Mesopotamia found inside a 5000-year-old tomb in Turkey

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A team of archaeologists has unearthed the graves of several youth at Başur Höyük, a Bronze Age burial site in Turkey. Believed to be oldest child sacrifice site in the region, the site housed the skeletal remains of a number of young people, buried between 3100 BC and 2800 BC.

Excavations at the 5,000-year-old burial site – situated in the Siirt province – were led by Haluk Sağlamtimur of Turkey’s Ege University and Brenna Hassett of the Natural History Museum in London. As part of the mission, the archaeologists uncovered a large, coffin-like stone tomb, that held the remains of 11 males and females ranging from ages 11 to 20.

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Among the deceased were two 12-year-olds as well as a young adult who were buried at an earlier date, the researchers stated. As per Sağlamtimur, several of the skeletal fragments bore signs of sharp force trauma, probably inflicted through stabbing or cutting. One of the males, for instance, suffered deep wounds on his hip and head and was likely stabbed to death. This, together with the presence of a trove of riches at the burial place, indicates that the young people might have been sacrificed.

It is unlikely that these children and young people were killed in a massacre or conflict. The careful positioning of the bodies and the evidence of violent death suggest that these burials fit the same pattern of human sacrifice seen at other sites in the region.

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With all the burials taking place between 3100 BC and 2800 BC, the newly-discovered site is believed to have predated the Royal Cemetery of Ur by nearly 500 years. Located in modern-day Dhi Qar Governorate in southern Iraq and discovered in the period between 1922 and 1934, the Royal Cemetery of Ur is a series of elaborate tombs that housed the remains of Mesopotamian rulers. Claiming that the child burials at Başur Höyük bear much resemblance to the graves at Ur, Hassett said –

Previously, the most well-known example of human sacrifice from this area is the monumental  discovery of the Royal Cemetery of Ur, where hundreds of burials were identified as sacrifices.

Buried With A Sea Of Riches

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Inside the tomb, two of the children were buried lying on their backs. The skeletal remains of eight other individuals were found at their feet. In and around the burial site, the archaeologists uncovered textile fragments, beads, ornaments, ceramics as well as hundreds of bronze spearheads.

According to them, the children and the young adults may have been sacrificed as “retainers” to accompany and serve the dead in the afterlife. Speaking about the findings, Hassett said –

The burials are remarkable because of the youth of the individuals, the number that were buried and the large wealth of objects that were buried with them. Women and children in Mesopotamia were occasionally buried with grave goods, but they were normally personal belongings.

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However, because of the poor condition of the graves, the researchers have been unable to accurately determine the cause of death. Of the 11 that were buried, some might have died as a result of injuries sustained on the fleshy parts of the body, which would not have left lasting signs. Elaborating further, Hassett added –

As a grim example, stab wounds are normally aimed at the soft parts of the body, which do not preserve.

Mesopotamia And Its History Of Human Sacrifices

Mesopotamia as a regional toponym relates to a conglomeration of areas from various modern-day nations, including Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey and even Iraq-Iran borders. Historically, the relevance of this ‘meta-region’ relates to it being the focal point of earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution, circa 10,000 BC. Considered as the cradle of western civilization, Mesopotamia is widely believed to have fueled some of the most crucial inventions in human history, ranging from the cursive script, advanced astronomy to complex mathematics.

Read More: 12 Fascinating Ancient Mesopotamian Inventions You Should Know About

According to some historians, human sacrifices – particularly child sacrifices – were a means of population control in ancient societies. At the time when the burials took place, Mesopotamia was on the cusp of major political and social upheavals and instability. With the Mesopotamian city-states emerging in the 3rd millennium BC, people from the region found new ways of demonstrating and asserting their power.

This, according to archaeological evidence found at Başur Höyük, included ostentatious displays of wealth especially at the time of burial and even human sacrifices. Speaking on the matter, Brenna noted –

It has been suggested that practicing human sacrifice was one of the ways that complex civilizations like the one that rose up in Mesopotamia consolidated their power. ‘This discovery moves the investigation 500 years earlier and more than 500 miles to the north. This exciting discovery will change the way we look at the development of the world’s first states.

At the newly-unearthed site, archaeologists have also discovered a mysterious mass grave containing the remains of around 50 individuals who were likely buried at the same time. As part of the project, Brenna and his colleagues – DNA experts Prof Ian Barnes and Dr. Selina Brace – along with Professor David Wengrow of UCL have been awarded a new Arts and Humanities Research Council grant to conduct further investigation.

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Source: Daily Sabah

Image Credits: Archaeology News Network

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