British Museum blog

Amara West 2012: excavating a burial


Milena Grzybowska, physical anthropologist

Once documentation of the chapel and pyramid of grave G309 was complete, we started excavation of the substructure. As expected, a shaft leads to two burial chambers carved into schist bedrock, all arranged on an east-west axis.

Milena excavating at the base of the shaft in G309

Milena excavating at the base of the shaft in G309

However, some details of construction were unusual for this cemetery: a schist slab was used as a door jamb for the western chamber, and the shaft was partly lined with mudbrick and then plastered.

Near the base of the 2.5 metre deep shaft, an intact burial was found. This skeleton of a 15-20 year-old female was found in a prone position (lying on her front), extended with her arms placed along her sides. This suggests the body was tightly wrapped in a shroud – or possibly mummified.

The woman was found on a mat, probably of reed, which will be confirmed by botanical analysis. Blue, red and white beads were found around her neck, while both of her hands were adorned with bracelets of faience beads.

A scarab, found in her left hand, is carved with a depiction of two baboons greeting the sun – symbolised by an obelisk.

Establishing the sex of an individual is often problematic in osteology, but the skeleton of a foetus, found still within the pelvic area of the mother, left no doubts. According to a preliminary skeletal analysis, the baby reached the 28th week of its intrauterine life and did not exhibit any skeletal abnormalities.

Burial of a woman at the base of the shaft in G309

Burial of a woman at the base of the shaft in G309

The reason of death for both individuals might never be established. The foetus was found in a position not suggestive of a child-birth death, and ff the mother succumbed to some other pregnancy-related complications it might not leave evidence on the skeleton. A thorough analysis of potential pathological conditions identifiable in the mother’s remains might, however, shed some light on this matter in the future. For example, on the basis of healed porosity of the cranium and orbits, we might suspect that the mother had suffered and recovered from anaemia during her life.

Find out more about the Amara West research project

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Objects on display illustrate the continuity of the Canaanite culture of the southern Levant throughout this period. They highlight the indigenous origins of both the Israelites and the Phoenicians.
The display compares this culture with that of the peoples of central inland Syria, the Amorites and the Aramaeans. To start the week, here's the next three gallery spaces in our #MuseumOfTheFuture series. Rooms 57–59 are the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Galleries of the Ancient Levant. This pic is of Room 57. The Ancient Levant corresponds to the modern states of Syria (western part), Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Rooms 57–59 present the material culture of the region from the Neolithic farmers of the 8th millennium BC to the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, within the context of major historical events.
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