Necropolis in Turkey Reveals the Iron Age Burial Customs of the Urartu

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Necropolis in Turkey Reveals the Iron Age Burial Customs of the Urartu

Excavations that started over five years ago at a Urartian necropolis at Çavuştepe Castle in eastern Turkey (ancient Anatolia) have revealed a multipl

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Excavations that started over five years ago at a Urartian necropolis at Çavuştepe Castle in eastern Turkey (ancient Anatolia) have revealed a multiplicity of burial customs among the Iron Age Urartu people (9th century BC-6th century BC). Headed by Professor Rafet Çavuşoğlu of Van Province’s Yüzüncü Yıl University’s (YYÜ) Archaeology Department, the 25-member team consists of anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, city planners and restorers.

While the work on the Çavuştepe Castle, built by Urartian King Sarduri II in 750 BC, is mostly of a repair and restoration nature, archaeological digs are being carried out in the necropolis in the castle’s northern section. The Daily Sabah reports Professor Çavuşoğlu as saying that most of their work in the area conservation and protection. On the other hand, he has gone on to say that their excavations in the necropolis area of the castle, ongoing since 2017, have provided very important archaeological data on Urartian burial traditions.

The Urartian necropolis at Çavuştepe Castle in eastern Turkey (ancient Anatolia), where new burial customs of the Urartu Kingdom of Van were recently identified. ( Anadolu Agency )

The Urartu Culture and Çavuştepe Castle

Belonging to the Iron Age of human history , the kingdom of Urartu (or the kingdom of Van) was centered in the area around Lake Van and extended into the mountainous plateau region between Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Iranian Plateau , and the Caucasus Mountains . The kingdom of Van was founded around the mid-ninth century BC. The Urartu kingdom was a powerful culture before it faded away. In the 6th century BC, it mysteriously disappeared. It was only rediscovered as a distinct and recognizable ancient culture in the late 1800s!

Çavuştepe Castle is situated in Gürpınar district of Van Province and dates to a time when the Urartu culture was at its peak. The upper part of the castle was once home to a temple dedicated to Khaldi, the Urartian storm god , their highest-ranking deity. The lower castle houses a variety of buildings.

An Urartian urn burial tomb being unearthed by the dig team working at the Çavuştepe Castle’s Urartu culture necropolis. (Anadolu Agency)

An Urartian urn burial tomb being unearthed by the dig team working at the Çavuştepe Castle’s Urartu culture necropolis. ( Anadolu Agency )

The 2777-year-old Urartian Necropolis Skeletons, Artifacts

Skeletons of men and women dating back 2,777 years were found in graves at the necropolis of Çavuştepe Castle. One of the more interesting finds was the skeleton of a 3-year-old child bedecked with a substantial amount of jewelry, which included a “fantasy novel like” dragon-headed bracelet on one upper arm.

At the end of last month, a new tomb was dug up where a man or woman was buried with four horses, a dog, cattle and sheep . Speaking to the Hurriyet Daily News about this find, a visibly excited  Professor Çavuşoğlu said:

“This place has always brought firsts to us about the Urartian burial tradition. Today, we have encountered one of those firsts. In the studies we carried out with our expert team, we found an in-situ tomb. We saw a human being buried with his animals. Pieces of pottery were found right next to it. Here we also found an oil lamp with a bulb that we have never seen before. It also gives important tips about lighting.”

Associate Professor of Archaeology Hakan Yilmaz, meanwhile, said, “The fact that the person was buried with his horses is interesting. There are four horses. The skulls of the two horses are intact and both have lower jaws. There are human skulls and bones right next to the tomb and next to them are beef bones . We understand that this person was buried with his animals…. This tomb belongs to an important person. It is something that surprises us. We will analyze the bones in the laboratory.”

The latest in the series of finds at the site are two graves, one of an adult and another of a child. Professor Çavuşoğlu explained that previously cist graves, chamber tombs, and urn tombs had been identified in the necropolis area. They have now found a new type of tomb where the dead have been buried near a platform structure.

According to Professor Çavuşoğlu, the grave of the adult appears to have been looted, which the archaeologists deduced from the absence of belongings in the grave unlike almost all the other graves excavated at the site. Moreover, the adult bones were found in a mixed state with the head of the corpse next to its feet.

The team hopes that further work at the site in the days to come will provide even more information about the burial traditions and other customs of the fascinating Urartu culture.

Top image: Recently, the Çavuştepe Castle necropolis dig team discovered a new type of Urartu tomb where the dead were buried near a platform structure. The bones of an adult in this tomb were found in a mixed state with the head of the corpse next to its feet as this image clearly shows. Source: Anadolu Agency

By Sahir Pandey

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