After two 12-year-olds were buried 5,000 years ago, ancient Mesopotamians placed a large quantity of bronze spearheads beside them, along with the bodies of eight children that appear to have been used as sacrifices.
Archaeologists in Basur Höyük, Turkey discovered these eight bodies directly outside the tomb of the two 12-year-old children, and have determined that six of these sacrificial victims would have been between 11 to 20 years of age, as Live Science report.
The new study on the Mesopotamian sacrifice in Turkey has revealed that all of the bodies found beside the tomb “had been deposited in a single event, and furnished with an unprecedented number of high-status grave goods for the period and the region.”
The tomb was originally uncovered in 2014 and archaeologists note that they also found the remains of an adult with the 12-year-old children, but have since concluded that the odds are good that the adult burial occurred before the children were later placed there.
Despite still looking at the evidence surrounding the grisly deaths of the eight children who were also found beside the tomb, researcher Brenna Hassett believes that the most likely explanation is that these children were sacrificial victims as evidenced by marks that still remain on two of the skeletons.
“While we only have evidence for violent trauma on two of the skeletons, it’s important to remember that violent death doesn’t always leave a mark on the skeleton. As a grim example, stab wounds are normally aimed at the soft parts of the body, which do not preserve.”
Hassett also described the young sacrifices as children who had ceramics, textiles, and beads placed alongside them so that they could accompany the two 12-year-olds on their journey to the afterlife.
“From the careful dressing and positioning of the bodies outside the door to the main chamber, it seems all eight would have been retainer sacrifices.”
Archaeologists are now puzzled over the identity of the two children who were buried with the human sacrifices and wonder why this particular site in Turkey was chosen as their resting place and what significance it may hold. However, the study does indicate that these children must have “held an important biosocial status” in the society in which they lived.
Human sacrifices also happened in other regions of Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago, including one that took place in Arslantepe, which is very close to Basur Höyük. As Brenna Hassett further elaborated, these burials in Turkey would have taken place during a time of great social change in society’s early states.
“One thought is that what we are witnessing at Basur Höyük is part of a phenomenon we see in other societies across the globe, where power is being consolidated into a more structured, formal hierarchy; what archaeologists would call ‘early states’. Perhaps what we are seeing is a display of power by an increasingly hierarchical society; the power to dispose of great wealth — and even people — might be the same kind of power you need to show to build a state-like society. It’s a truly fascinating puzzle that will hopefully tell us more about how human societies form and change.”
The new study on the Mesopotamian child sacrifices discovered in Turkey can be read in the journal Antiquity.