An ancient tomb complex filled with gold and silver
treasures has recently been uncovered in northern Syria, yielding
crucial clues about life in some of the world's very first cities.
Highly unusual signs of ritual infant sacrifice
have also been found in the tombs, which were discovered at Umm el-Marra,
56 kilometres (35 miles) east of the city of Halab (ancient Aleppo).
If confirmed, the signs of sacrifice could raise
intriguing questions about the beliefs of the site's former
The first Umm el-Marra tomb, dating back to 3000
BC, was discovered six years ago by researchers from Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore, Maryland.
The latest discovery has revealed at least seven
more tombs in the same complex, built over three centuries from
about 2500 to about 2200 BC.
The tombs held a treasure trove of artefacts. One
contained a wooden coffin with gold and silver toggle pins and beads
of lapis, gold, and carnelian, a reddish mineral often used as a
In another tomb, three adults were found buried
with gold and silver ornaments and vessels, ivory combs, and
furniture inlaid with ostrich eggshell.
Signs of ritual human and animal sacrifice -
including puppies, decapitated donkeys, and the skeletons of infants
- were also found.
The animal skeletons found are predominantly of
equids, or members of the horse family, most likely donkeys, onagers
(donkeys' wild cousins), or a hybrid of the two. But archaeologists
also found puppy bones in the tombs.
A previously unseen variety of writing was also
found carved into four small clay cylinders uncovered in one
Johns Hopkins archaeologist Glenn Schwartz, who led
the research, believes the tombs were for members of the city's
royalty or upper class. "I suspect that the sacrifice of these equids in
our tombs has something to do with their association with the
highest rank of society," Schwartz said. "It would be like a wealthy
person today being buried with his or her Rolls Royce."