A 3rd-Millennium BC Elite Tomb from Tell Umm El-Marra, Syria

Article excerpt

An intact wealthy tomb dating to the later 3rd millennium BC was discovered in the 2000 spring-summer season of the Dutch-American expedition to Tell Umm el-Marra, Syria. This structure provides further evidence of the trend towards conspicuous and wealthy mortuary monuments in Syria's earliest urban civilization (Peltenburg 1999). Located 50 km east of Aleppo in the Jabbul plain, Umm el-Marra (ancient Tuba?) is situated near a major east-west route linking the Mediterranean coast with Mesopotamia. The site was a large centre (c. 25 ha) during the Early, Middle and Late Bronze periods (c. 2800-1200 BC) and re-occupied in Persian, Hellenistic and Roman times. Excavations by a joint Johns Hopkins-University of Amsterdam team have been conducted since 1994 (Curvers & Schwartz 1997; Schwartz et al. 2000).

The tomb was found on the site acropolis immediately below a Middle Bronze Age stratum (c. 1800 BC) containing a large stone construction (a massive platform?). The tomb's absolute elevation is unusually high for Early Bronze contexts at the site, indicating that this part of the tell was raised above the rest of the city in the 3rd millennium. Apparently freestanding, the rectangular structure measured c. 3.8x2.6 m, with a stone foundation and mudbrick superstructure (FIGURE 1). Its orientation was east-west, with an entry on the eastern, short side.


The tomb contents included three layers of skeletons interred inside rectangular coffins placed in the western part of the structure. The coffins were preserved only as `casts' and were probably of wood originally, lined with a whitish material (reed?) and bitumen. In the top layer, side by side in their respective coffins, were two young women, each with a baby at the knee. The southern individual had a gold diadem and disk (FIGURE 2), bracelet, pendant and beads, as well as silver pins and bracelets. Associated with the northern individual were gold, silver and lapis lazuli beads and pendants (FIGURES 3, 4), a gold toggle pin, a cylinder seal, a bronze torque and shells filled with cosmetic material.


In the layer below were two adult males in two coffins (FIGURE 5), with the skeleton of a baby at some distance to the east. The middle-aged man buried to the south wore a silver diadem and bracelet (FIGURE 6), while the young man to the north was accompanied by a bronze dagger and spearhead. In the lowest layer was a male c. 60 years old whose accoutrements included a silver cup and pins.


Numerous ceramic vessels were found in the tomb, some of which contained animal bones probably derived from funerary offerings. Outside the tomb to the south was a jar containing the remains of a baby, an empty spouted jar and two equid skulls, perhaps secondary offerings. The ceramics in the tomb allow for a date c. …