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16 April 2007
Scan for 4600-year-old skulls

A pair of 46-hundred-year-old skulls from Iraq will be given a C-T scan in Philadelphia (USA). It promises to reveal the faces of two of the dozens of sacrificial victims found decades ago in the remains of an ancient Sumerian city.
     The procedure will be done at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on the skulls of a young woman adorned with gold ornaments and a man wearing a copper helmet. Both were found in the southern Iraq city of Ur in the 1920s and 1930s. Archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology excavating the Royal Tombs of Ur found a 'Great Death Pit' with the bodies of 74 sacrificial victims. Smaller tombs contained other bodies, believed to be those of royal retainers.
     The woman's skull was found in the large pit while the man's was from a smaller death pit attached to a royal grave. He is presumed to be one of six soldiers who stood at the entrance of the pit. Janet Monge, acting curator in charge of the museum's physical anthropology collections, said the scan of the woman's skull should give an idea of how the elaborate headdresses found with the bodies were worn.
     Anthropology graduate student Aubrey Baadsgaard said she hopes to recover DNA from the skulls. She also wants to draw enamel from the teeth to compare it with remains found in the Indus Valley civilization in India, to see if the sacrificial victims came from that area. Baadsgaard also wants to see whether the remains may have been heated before burial, an early form of mummification done elsewhere in Mesopotamia to keep bodies preserved for funeral processions. If so, the victims were likely killed before being taken to the burial site, casting doubt on the theory of the excavating archaeologists that they were given poison to drink in the tomb, she said.

Sources: Associated Press, ABC, PennLive.com (13 April 2007)

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