Support from the National Science Foundation will allow Dr. Glenn Schwartz to conduct two seasons of excavation at Umm el-Marra, Syria, in order to explore a "royal" mortuary complex dating to the period of Syria's first urban civilization. Previous excavation and survey work based at Umm el-Marra, located east of Aleppo in northern Syria, has revealed that the site was the predominant urban center of the Jabbul plain throughout the Bronze Age, ca. 2600-1200 BC. In the 2000 excavation season, an intact elaborate tomb dating to the earliest urban era was discovered in the site center. While an upper layer consisting of two young women, each with a baby, yielded numerous lavish ornaments of gold, lapis lazuli, and silver, the two layers of males underneath contained only modest amounts of burial goods. Such gender differentiation in grave wealth might be interpreted as evidence of high-ranking women accompanied by sacrificed lower-ranking males.
Architectural evidence indicates that the Umm el-Marra tomb was a centrally-located, freestanding mausoleum, part of a larger complex on the site acropolis that may have been an elite funerary installation. In summer 2002 and 2003, Schwartz plans to conduct two excavation seasons in order to investigate this complex. An area of 640 square meters will be excavated in the acropolis center in order to expose as much as possible of the hypothesized mortuary complex and to determine if earlier phases of the feature are to be found underneath it.
This research promises to yield a number of important results. The study of early urbanism in Syria and Mesopotamia has thus far concentrated on economic and environmental factors. Excavation of an elite mortuary complex will allow for the consideration of the role of ritual, religion, and ideology. An hypothesis proposing that the Syrian elites legitimized their authority through veneration of elite ancestors will be tested. Additional data on status and gender hierarchies will also be obtained and further scrutinized using artifact and skeletal analyses.
The complex can be expected to reveal important new information on the dominant elites in early urban Syria, the bases of their power, and the gender-related dimensions of such power. A large sample of elite data, complementing non-elite results from other parts of the site, would allow for a holistic view of an early Syrian urban center.