Archaeologists Find Bronze Age Crypt Under the Royal Palace of Qatna in Syria

Royal Palace Qatna - SkullThe archaeological excavations at the royal palace in the ancient city of Qatna, north east of the Syrian city of Homs, have once again unfolded a remarkable archaeological discovery. The summer excavations, due to end on the 25th September 2009, located a rock tomb-cellar underneath the palace containing hundreds of artefacts as well as human bones from the period 1600-1400 BC.

Qatna was one of the most important kingships during Syria’s Bronze Age. It reached the height of its prosperity between 1800 and 1600 BC (Middle Bronze Age) and was then among one of the most powerful states in the Orient. Its royal dynasty continued until its destruction by the Hittites in 1340 BC.

The recent excavations – led by the German-Syrian team of Dr. Michel al-Maqdissi, Director of Excavations at the Directorate General of Antiquities in Damascus, and Professor Dr. Peter Pflzner from the University of Tbingen – give us a wealth of new information about the death cult of the kingship of Qatna, its artistic excellence and its relationships to other Old Orient powers 3500 years ago, by brining to light the existence of an unexpected second underground tomb-cellar.

Qatna - Monkey with a holder for royal facial paint

The Bronze Age Royal Crypt

The discovery of the rock-cut tomb was made during excavations of the north-west wing of the the Royal Palace at Qatna. They German-Syrian archaeologists located a “slope basement” below ground floor level, its walls almost completely intact. A chamber bearing a collapsed timber roof, acting as an antechamber to the tomb-cellar, exists beneath the basement. A stone rock-cut leads from here into the spacious cellar itself. It is 4.90 by 6.30 metres large and is divided into two chambers by a wall hollowed out of the rock. The cellar is accessible from the palace and is integrated architecturally into its whole structure. Its use can be verified back to the later period of the palace in 1400 BC.

Ancient Sticks &Bones

A huge number of clearly visible human bones has been found in the tomb-cellar. The discovery of 30 skulls suggests at least the same amount of burials. The fact that the bones are stacked in groups rather than lying in anatomical formation is significant here. Particles of wood found suggest that at least some of them were placed in wooden crates or coffins indicating a secondary burial.

The amount of bones – in good condition under the circumstances – found is immense and significantly surpasses previous findings. Anthropologists Dr. Carsten Witzel and Dr. Stefan Flohr from the University of Hildesheim are carrying out an intricate examination of these human remains on site.

Artifacts imported from the Old Kingdom Egypt

Numerous vessels of ceramic and granite have been found. The latter are Egyptian imports whose production in the Old Egyptian Kingdom dates to a period 1000 years prior to the existence of the rock-cut tomb. Furthermore, the archaeologists discovered alabaster vessels which might also stem from Egypt. In one of these a collection of gold jewellery was found consisting of rings, rosettes and gold foils. In other parts of the tomb, chased gold foils possibly used for textile or furniture decorative purposes have been uncovered.

Excavations at the Royal Palace at Qatna Syria

Egyptian influence at Qatna was already agreed upon earlier, as in previous excavations a 12th Dynasty Egyptian sphinx belonging to Princess Ita, daughter of Amenemhat II was found within the debris of Late Bronze Age Royal Palace.

Notable among the bronze artefacts found by the German-Syrian team is a heavy spearhead and a dress pin. A further finely crafted dress pin made from gold, a cylinder seal made from lapis lazuli as well as a seal in the shape of a scarab complement the inventory of artefacts found.

Of particular interest due to its fine craftsmanship and beauty is a stone sculpture of a monkey holding a vessel used to hold facial paint. Of great interest from the perspective of art history is the discovery of an ivory human statuette with a very finely carved face.

The identification of those buried in the tomb-cellar is now the task facing researchers, but the lack of inscriptions makes this difficult. Most probably the remains stem from members of the royal family or royal household of Qatna. However it is also possible that the remains originate from earlier royal burials placed in the cellar at a later point of time.

An exhibition entitled “Treasures of Ancient Syria – The Discovery of the Kingdom of Qatna” will be hosted from 17th October 2009 until 14th March 2010 in the Landesmuseum Wrttemberg in Stuttgart, Germany.