Excavation on the "High Mound" Excavation in the Lower Town The Tombs Regional Surveys and Excavations Remote Sensing

Field School

2008 Season 2009 Season

Excavation of the Tombs

In 1993, when we arrived at the site that spring, we found that the local and owners had plowed and sown the whole of the lower town and were irrigating its northwestern most part. A major feeder canal ran along the high ground represented by Tell es-Sweyhat's outer fortification wall, with smaller canals branching off it. Our land owners' irrigation water, while damaging remains in the lower town, led to an unexpected discovery of major archaeological significance. The irrigation water opened up three deep holes along the line of the feeder canal. Our guard pointed the holes out to us half way through our field season, in large part because looters from the nearby village of Hajji Hasan, northeast of Tell es-Sweyhat, had recently been down in them. We investigated one of the holes and quickly concluded that the holes were the shafts associated with large chamber tombs. We decided to undertake salvage operations on two tombs (Tombs 1-2) in the month or so remaining in our field season. We also noted the location of two others, one opened and presumably robbed (Tomb 3) and one to the northwest of the outer fortification wall visible as a sinkhole (Tomb 4).

In walking across the northwestern part of the lower town early in our 1995 field season, we spotted a sink hole in the middle of Grid Square D4. We recognized the depression as the shaft of a presumably intact tomb similar to those discovered in 1993, and decided to excavate it.

Tomb 1

The tomb consisted of a rectangular shaft ca. 2 m deep., which ended on a narrow ledge. Two steps led down 1.5 m from the ledge to the floor of a roughly circular chamber, ca. 5 m in diameter. The shaft was cut entirely from the level of virgin soil. The chamber was dome-shaped, its high point ca. 2.5 m above the floor or ca. one m below virgin soil and 2.5 m below the surface of the mound in the area (on shaft and chamber tombs and burial customs more generally, see Orthmann 1980;Carter and Becker 1995).



Though the chamber was not filled, a substantial amount of soil had washed down into it, and the soil was very wet from the irrigation water which had run unchecked into the hole since the shaft first opened up. When we entered the chamber, we noted a depression, oriented roughly southwest-northeast, on the northeastern side of the chamber, with soil heaped up ca. 40 cm high on both sides; we assumed that the depression marked the spot where the looters had been digging. We found a large flat limestone slab in the backdirt to the east of the depression, and a similar slab in the southwestern quarter of the chamber near its entrance. The function of the first slab remains uncertain. Since we found no pits cut into the chamber floor, it probably did not serve to seal a burial, though it might have served as a bier. The second slab, which measured ca. 1.3 by1.0 m, had probably sealed the entrance between the shaft and the chamber.

The consistency of the soil in the chamber made excavation and removal of fill arduous and time-consuming. We could have perhaps increased our recovery of bones, small finds and pottery if we had wet sieved the soil we removed, but we had neither the time nor funds to do so. The tomb contained both human and animal bones as, for example, did contemporary tombs at Halawa (Orthmann 1981: 89-101), but the state of their preservation was extremely poor. We will have to await analysis of the animal bones, but preliminary observations indicate that they were from sheep and/or goat. Despite the fact that the tomb had been recently looted and the pottery vessels carelessly thrown aside or deliberately broken, we managed to recover a substantial number of whole or nearly complete pottery pots [fig. 3.16], as well as stone beads, a shell ring, fragments of a hollow bone cylinder with incised decoration, a copper (or bronze) ring, a copper (or bronze) pin with a bent shaft, eye and globular head and a copper (or bronze) "fork" that had a straight shaft with a V-shaped notch on one end. Pins with a bent shaft, eye and globular head were, as Woolley noted, the most characteristic type of pin in the Royal Cemetery at Ur(1934: 310). Such pins are also common at Tell Chuera (Moortgat 1965: 42-44 [with further references]) and in Halawa's mid-Early Bronze Age tombs (Orthmann 1981: pls. 63 and 71). The "fork" was probably a string notch from the butt end of a projectile. Woolley found string notches similar in shape and size to it in situ in the butt ends of what he described as light javelins or throwing spears (1934: 304). Its presence in Tomb 1 may suggest that the tomb originally contained weapons like the Til Barsip Hypogeum.

The pottery from Tomb 1 included simple, metallic and cooking potwares (Fig. 48). We have used the term metallic ware, like Kühne (1976:33-72), as a general designation that includes gray-black burnished,corrugated, band-burnished and band-painted wares. The sherds from a spouted globular cooking pot with a low, flaring neck and plain, rounded rim were extremely friable. The vessel was not restored, but a complete example was found in Tomb 2.

In addition to ancient artifacts, we recovered empty packages ofal-Hamra cigarettes and a cigarette lighter [Photo: cigarettes, etc.].

Tomb 1's shaft, as noted above, was sealed by a thick clay band which served as the building floor for what may have been part of the outer fortification wall of the late third millennium settlement. The wall provides a terminus ante quem for the tombs.



Tomb 2

Tomb 2 was visible as a roughly circular hole ca. 3 m in diameter. The size of the hole was apparently the result of a collapse that occurred while the looters were working there. When we were clearing fill from the hole, we found stones from the outer fortification wall's footings and a crushed bucket the looters had used for removing dirt, as well as a digging tool. Because of the collapse we could not get any information on the exact location, shape and size of the shaft. We cleared only a part of the tomb chamber before the end of the field season. While the tomb had been entered, it was still largely intact, and the bones we recovered were in a better state of preservation than those from Tomb 1, in large part becauseTomb 2 had not been flooded by irrigation water. At least two large stones, one of which was probably the capstone, and clusters of smaller stones were found on the floor of the chamber or in the fill immediately above the floor. At least two humans had been buried in Tomb 2, as well as animals (or parts of animals), including sheep and cattle. Finds included a copper (or bronze) bent pin with eye and globular head and copper (or bronze) lunate-shaped earrings, and many whole and nearly complete pottery vessels.

As in Tomb 1, the pottery included simple, metallic and cooking potwares [Photo: Tomb 2 remains]. It also included a single example of smeared wash ware, a small globular jar with a flat base, short straight neck and beveled ledge rim similar to, if somewhat smaller than, examples from theAmuq (Braidwood and Braidwood 1960: figs. 345:3 and 367:4). The surfacedecoration, dark purplish in color (cf. Braidwood and Braidwood 1960: pl.89: 3), covered the whole vessel.



Tomb 5

Operation 22 was a 2 by 2 m square located over a sink hole, which we took to mark the location of a tomb shaft, in the middle of D4. We encountered no architecture or floor levels and quickly and easily defined the shaft. However, the tomb chamber was filled almost to the top. A certain amount of soil must have been brought into the chamber (or accumulated through natural processes) while the tomb was in use, since what was probably the capstone--or a large fragment, measuring 78 by 72 by15 cm--was found in the fill ca 15-20 cm above the floor. The bulk of the fill had accumulated after the stone which had sealed the crawl space between shaft and chamber had fallen in. The uppermost 80 cm of fill consisted of water laid deposits--hard yellow clay-lik soil striated with less compacted brown soil--and presumably represents a relatively recent depositional episodes.



Tomb 5's shaft, cut from the level of virgin soil, was funnel-shaped. It ended on a ledge from which access could be had into the tomb chamber. The top of the ledge was ca 1.70 m above the floor or the chamber. The tomb chamber was a sort of flattened dome, ca. 1.90 m high.The floor of the chamber, ca 4.50 m below the modern surface, was roughly oval in shape, measuring ca 3.9 by 4.9 m.

We found two articulated skeletons, both on the western side of the chamber. One, that of a female, near the chamber's entrance, was relatively well-preserved and may represent the most recent interment; it had no artifacts specifically associated with it. A second, somewhat smaller and poorly preserved skeleton, also probably a female, was located more than a meter northeast of the first body; it had crossed straight pins of copper or bronze at the breast and a necklace [fig. 3.18 or Hoffman original drawing]. The pins may have served to secure a shawl similar to that worn by women on the roughly contemporary shell inlays from Mari (Parrot 1962: pls. 11-12). One of the pins projected through a flat ring made of gypsum and decorated with incised concentric circles. The ring would have been secured to the shawl and served to anchor the pin. The necklace included rhomboid-shaped beads made of gypsum; date-shaped beads made of a crumbly black stone or composite material; carnelian biconoids and beveled ring-shaped beads; two gypsum beads in the shape of a cow or bull, both decorated with incised concentric circles; and, many small cylindrical beads made of gypsum. Near the skull were a gypsum ring nearly identical to the one at the breast and two ceramic wheels from a model. The ring may have originally been attached to the deceased's shawl to anchor the other pin or might equally have been a hair ornament.



The remainder of the human bones from the tomb were scattered around the floor of the chamber, with a large pile of bones, in part overlain by pottery vessels, against the north wall. The bones of earlier burials were apparently rather carelessly tossed aside when thebodies of the more recently dead were interred. We found, for example, an articulated forearm and hand just northwest of the chamber's entrance. A small gray-black burnished ware jar was in the hand and a beaded bracelet encircled the wrist. We have not yet been able to determine the number of individuals in the tomb, though the number of skulls provides an index.

In addition to the two articulated skeletons, we recovered three complete skulls and fragments of at least five others, so the tomb contained at least ten individuals. The teeth of one complete skull, probably belonging to an older male showed heavy wear (the premolars and the incisors, which were reduced to pegs, had no enamel; the right canine was impacted. In addition to the human remains, the tomb also contained animal bones, both on the floor of the chamber and in the fill immediately above the floor. The animals included sheep/goat, pig and various kinds of birds and frogs. The bones found in the fill appear to represent the remains of deliberate "offerings." The skull of one sheep/goat had birds' eggs set in its eye sockets and the skull of a different sheep/goat in the center of the chamber was surrounded by four stones. Both seem unlikely to have been the result of accidents. Our excavations uncovered no stratigraphic evidence that would shed light on the circumstances of such deposits. It is possible that they represent the remains of "offerings" placed on top of a mound of dirt that covered an individual. A piglet and a sheep skull, for example, were above, but in close proximity to the articulated skeleton on the southwest side of the chamber. It is perhaps possible, though it would seem less likely, that the remains in the chamber were covered just prior to the tomb being "abandoned" and that "offerings" were made at that time.

Most of the artifacts recovered were mixed with the bones and pottery vessels against the chamber's north wall. Copper or bronze artifacts included pins, most with a bent shaft, eye and globular head; a bent clasp that could have secured a shroud or a leather or cloth bag; two bent hammered axe blades; a javelin point; a string notch for a light projectile; and, six daggers. The daggers, which have a central thickening or mid rib and short tang, vary in length from 23 to 17 cm. On each, three rivets--two on the shoulder and one on the tang, would have served to secure the handle, which were probably made of woodand had disintegrated. Other finds included a hollow bone cylinder with incised decoration that was filled with a solidified black substance, perhaps a cosmetic pigment; a flint core; and, a model of a wagon with tilt, as well as two wheels, perhaps originally associated with the two wheels found near one of the articulated skeletons; a whetstone or pendant; beads; and, more than one hundred pottery vessels. Though we sieved the contents of nearly all the vessels and our archaeobotanist floated the soil removed from them, only the largest jar produced any evidence for what may have been the original contents, the bones of a large number of birds roughly the size of modern-day pigeons.



The pottery included the same wares found in Tombs 001-002 . The simple ware forms included cups and goblets, bowls with thickened rims, including one with a high pedestal base, globular jars of varying sizes, including spouted examples commonly dubbed "teapots," a vat, and miniature jars. The examples of gray-black burnished metallic ware were two small globular jars with medium-high necks and flaring rims. Examples of corrugated, band-burnished and band-painted metallic wares included a conical cup and bowls, several of which were deep and had three tubular feet, but most examples were small to medium-sized jars with globular bodies, low ring bases, high necks and flaring rims.


Tomb 5 Ceramics


Dating and Significance

Though detailed comparisons will have to await a final report, on the whole, the pottery from the Tell es-Sweyhat tombs has its strongest parallels with Amuq I-J (Braidwood and Braidwood 1960: 396-457), KurbanHöyük Period IV (Algaze 1990: 311-67), Hadidi Early Bronze III-IV(Dornemann 1988: 26-38), Halawa's mid-Early Bronze Age tombs (Orthmann,1981: 49-60), Tell Banat Tomb 1 (Porter 1995) and Tell Chuera (Kühne 1976). The tombs ought to be dated to the mid-to-late third millennium. Since at least Tomb 1's shaft was partially sealed by the fortification wall of the late third millennium settlement, it cannot not be as late as the last quarter of the third millennium. The tombs, therefore, are best dated to the third quarter of the third millennium.

The Tell es-Sweyhat tombs would have constituted the cemetery of the mid-third millennium village, situated to the northwest of the main population concentration. Based on their size and distribution of tombs, we estimate that the cemetery of which they were a part would have covered a hectare and might have included as many as 100-150 tombs.


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