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2 October 2014
Iron Age bowl tells a grisly tale

In 1958, archaeologists digging through the ruins of Hasanlu - a burned Iron Age citadel in northwestern Iran - pulled a spectacular, though crushed, golden bowl from the layers of destruction. The bowl was just beyond the fingertips of a dead soldier and two of his comrades, who were buried under bricks and burned building material around 800 BCE.
     Located on the shores of Lake Urmia, Hasanlu seems to have been first occupied about 8,000 years ago. But by the ninth or 10th century BCE, there was a bustling, fortified town at the site. Within the walls were houses, treasuries, horse stables, military arsenals and temples, many of which had towers or multiple stories. The buildings were mud-brick, but many roofs, floors and structural supports consisted of timber and reed matting.
     The burn layer at Hasanlu contains more than 200 bodies preserved in ash and rubble, suggesting that a surprise attack destroyed the citadel. Archaeologists who excavated the site in the 1950s, '60s and '70s found corpses that were beheaded and others that were missing hands.
     Archaeologists don't know the ethnicity of the people who lived there or what language they spoke. Many of the victims were women and children. In mass graves on top of the burned layer, excavators found the remains of people who tended to be very young or old and seemed to have suffered fatal, blunt-force trauma head wounds.
     The site was primarily excavated between 1956 and 1977. Because of security pressures and the overwhelming amount of material found, the work was often hurried. Some artefacts - such as the golden bowl - were pulled from the ground before they were documented or photographed.
     Historical texts indicate the ancient Urartu kingdom, which grew out of an area in modern-day Turkey, was expanding into the region around Hasanlu during the Iron Age through a brutal military campaign. Sometime after the citadel was abandoned, an Urartian fortification wall was built on top of the ruins.

Edited from LiveScience (8 September 2014)

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