Bronze Age Cemetery Emerges in Syria

Article excerpt

What began as a muddy chasm in a farmer's field in 1993 has now become a source of unexpected insights into the Early Bronze Age people who once flourished in what is now northern Syria.

Excavations in April at Tell es-Sweyhat, on the banks of the Euphrates River, uncovered a group tomb dating to between 2500 B.C. and 2250 B.C., according to initial estimates. Discoveries in the tomb, which may have been a family burial, set the stage for exploration of a surrounding cemetery that contains as many as 150 similar tombs, according to project director Richard L. Zettler, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia.

"This ancient cemetery covers at least 2 acres and hasn't been looted," Zettler says. "It has great research potential."

Until now, knowledge of Early Bronze Age life in northern Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, came largely from prior finds at Ebla, Zettler notes. That ancient Syrian site includes a royal palace and thousands of tablets bearing written administrative records. Urban civilization first arose in southern Mesopotamia around 3400 B.C. (SN: 3/3/90, p.136).

The number and quality of goods in the Tell es-Sweyhat tomb suggest that people buried there were not royalty, Zettler asserts. They may have lived at a nearby town now being excavated by his team.

Work at the settlement began in 1989. Irrigation of a nearby field by a farmer 2 years ago caused the collapse of a sinkhole, offering the first peek at the tombs. …