A team of Johns Hopkins University archaeologists digging in northern Syria this past summer found a 4,000-year-old tomb filled with human and animal remains, along with gold and silver artifacts.
The tomb, one of at least eight at the site, is believed to be part of a royal cemetery in the ancient city of Tuba, one of Syria's first settlements and the capital of a small kingdom, according to Glenn Schwartz, a Hopkins professor of Near Eastern studies.
The newly discovered tombs contain signs of ritual sacrifice, including the skeletons of infants and decapitated donkeys, as well as puppy bones, Schwartz said. Animal remains have been found adjacent to baby bones, an indication that infant sacrifice accompanied animal sacrifices in rituals honoring people buried nearby, Schwartz said. Researchers also found a large jar containing the skeletons of three infants.
Because there are no more than eight skeletons per tomb, Schwartz believes each one holds the remains of different families or dynasties.
Schwartz's team has found several tombs at the site since its initial discoveries in 2000. The Hopkins scientists return every two years -- this past summer from May 13 to July 25, he said. The excavation is a joint project with the University of Amsterdam.
Schwartz believes the tombs, built next to each other in a complex that expanded horizontally, were constructed over three centuries, from about 2500 B.C. to about 2200 B.C. By comparison, the Egyptian pyramids at Giza date to about 2600 B.C.
The tombs are in a village known as Umm el-Marra, just west of the Euphrates River near the city of Aleppo, a regional trading center that dates back at least 4,000 years.
Schwartz plans to publish this past summer's findings in the American Journal of Archaeology. The journal this month is publishing results from the 2002 and 2004 expeditions.
The items discovered are in the Aleppo Museum but are not on display, Schwartz said.