Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-42xl8 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-06T21:38:45.642Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Radical ‘royals’? Burial practices at Başur Höyük and the emergence of early states in Mesopotamia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 June 2018

Brenna Hassett*
Earth Sciences Department, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK
Haluk Sağlamtimur
Department of Archaeology, Ege University, Erzene Mahallesi, Gençlik Caddesi, 35040 İzmir, Turkey
*Author for correspondence (Email:


Human sacrifice has long been associated with the rise of hierarchical centralised societies. Recent excavation of a large cist tomb at third-millennium BC Başur Höyük, in Turkey, shows that state formation in Mesopotamia was accompanied by a fundamental change in the value of human life within local ritual economy. Osteological analysis and study of the grave goods have identified some of the dead as human sacrifices. This was indeed a retainer burial, reflecting the emergence of stratified society at a time of instability and crisis.

Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2018 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Algaze, G. 1993. The Uruk world system. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Baadsgaard, A., Monge, J., Cox, S. & Zettler, R.L.. 2011. Human sacrifice and intentional corpse preservation in the Royal Cemetery of Ur. Antiquity 85: 2742. Scholar
Bremmer, J.N. (ed.). 2007. The strange world of human sacrifice. Leuven: Peeters.Google Scholar
Croucher, K. 2012. Death and dying in the Neolithic Near East. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Scholar
Croucher, K. 2015. Life and death in late prehistoric to early historic Mesopotamia, in Renfrew, C., Boyd, M. & Morley, R. (ed.) Death shall have no dominion: the archaeology of mortality and immortality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Dickson, D.B. 2006. Public transcripts expressed in theatres of cruelty: the royal graves at Ur in Mesopotamia. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 16: 123–44. Scholar
Erdal, Y.S. 2012. The population replacement at Arslantepe: reflections on the human remains. Origini 34: 301–16.Google Scholar
Frangipane, M. 2006. The Arslantepe ‘royal tomb’: new funerary customs and political changes in the Upper Euphrates Valley at the beginning of the third millennium BC, in Bartoloni, G. & Benedettini, M.G. (ed.) Buried among the living: 169–94. Rome: Università degli studi di Roma ‘La Sapienza’.Google Scholar
Hassett, B.R. 2011. Sexual dimorphism of the canine in a post-medieval London sample: a test of alternate dental measurement. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 146: 486–89. Scholar
Helwing, B. 2012. An age of heroes? Some thoughts on Early Bronze Age funerary customs in northern Mesopotamia. Paper presented at the First International Symposium of the Tübingen Post-Graduate School, Tubingen, Germany, 2012.Google Scholar
McMahon, A., Sołtysiak, A. & Weber, J.. 2011. Late Chalcolithic mass graves at Tell Brak, Syria, and violent conflict during the growth of early city-states. Journal of Field Archaeology 36: 201–20. Scholar
Parker Pearson, M. 1999. The archaeology of death and burial. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.Google Scholar
Pollock, S. 1991. Of priestesses, princes and poor relations: the dead in the Royal Cemetery of Ur. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 1: 171–89. Scholar
Pollock, S. 2007. Death of a household, in Laneri, N. (ed.) Performing death: social analyses of funerary traditions in the ancient Mediterranean: 209–22. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Oriental Institute.Google Scholar
Porter, A. & Schwartz, G. (ed.). 2012. Sacred killing: the archaeology of sacrifce in the ancient Near East. Winona Lake (IN): Eisenbrauns.Google Scholar
Recht, L. 2010. Human sacrifice in the ancient Near East. Trinity College Dublin Journal of Postgraduate Research 9: 168–80.Google Scholar
Redmond, E.M. & Spencer, C.S.. 2012. Chiefdoms at the threshold: the competitive origins of the primary state. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 31: 2237. Scholar
Sağlamtimur, H. 2009. Siirt Başur Höyük 2008 excavation season, in Kültür Varlıkları ve Müzeler Genel Müdürlüğü—Diyarbakir Müze Müdürlüğü (ed.) Ilısu Barajı ve HES Projesi Arkeolojik Kazıları 2004–2008: 135–62. Diyarbakir: Kültür Varlıkları ve Müzeler Genel Müdürlüğü—Diyarbakir Müze Müdürlüğü.Google Scholar
Sağlamtimur, H. 2017. Siirt-Başur Höyük Erken Tunç Çağı I Mezarları: Ön rapor, in Aytaçlar, M.N., Abay, E., Dedoǧlu, F. & Erdoǧan, A. (ed.) Arkeoloji Derigisi. İzmir: Ege Üniversitesi.Google Scholar
Sağlamtimur, H. & Kalkan, E.. 2015. Late Chalcolithic pottery assemblage from Başur Höyük (Başur Höyük Geç Kalkolitik Dönem Çanak Çömlek Geleneği). Arkeoloji Dergisi: 57–88.Google Scholar
Sağlamtimur, H. & Massimino, M.G.M.. 2015. Wealth sacrifice and legitimacy: the case of the Early Bronze Age Başur Höyük cemetery (south-eastern Turkey). Paper presented at the 10th ICAANE Conference, Vienna, 2015.Google Scholar
Scheuer, L., Black, S. & Christie, A.. 2000. Developmental juvenile osteology. London: Elsevier.Google Scholar
Schour, I. & Massler, M.. 1941. The development of the human dentition. Journal of the American Dental Association 28: 1153–60.Google Scholar
Schwartz, G. 2012. Archaeology and sacrifice, in Porter, A. & Schwartz, G. (ed.) Sacred killing: the archaeology of sacrifce in the ancient Near East: 132. Winona Lake (IN): Eisenbrauns.Google Scholar
Şenyurt, S.Y. 2002. Aşağı Salat 2001 Yılı Kazısı, in Tuna, N., Grenhalgh, J. & Velibeyoğlu, J. (ed.) Ilısu ve Kargamış Baraj Gölleri Altında Kalacak Arkeolojik ve Kültür Varlıklarını Kurtarma Projesi: 2001 Yılı Çalışmaları;: 671–97. Ankara: ODTÜ/METU.Google Scholar
Sertok, K. & Ergeç, R.. 1999. A new Early Bronze Age cemetery: excavations near the Bırecık Dam, southeastern Turkey—preliminary report (1997–98). Anatolica 25: 87107. Scholar
Sürenhagen, D. 2002. Death in Mesopotamia: the ‘royal tombs’ of Ur revisited, in Werr, L. Al-Gailani (ed.) Of pots and plans: papers on the archaeology and history of Mesopotamia and Syria presented to David Oates in honour of his 75th birthday: 324–38. London: NABU.Google Scholar
Turchin, P. 2016. Is human sacrifice functional at the societal level? Clyiodynamica 13 April 2016. Available at: (accessed 16 March 2018).Google Scholar
Walker, P.L. 2001. A bioarchaeological perspective on the history of violence. Annual Review of Anthropology 30: 573–96. Scholar
Watts, J., Sheehan, O., Atkinson, Q.D., Bulbulia, J. & Gray, R.D.. 2016. Ritual human sacrifice promoted and sustained the evolution of stratified societies. Nature 532: 228–31. Scholar
Wengrow, D. 2011. ‘Archival’ and ‘sacrificial’ economies in Bronze Age Eurasia: an interactinist approach to the hoarding of metals, in Wilkinson, T., Sherratt, S. & Bennet, J. (ed.) Interweaving worlds: systemic interactions in Eurasia, 7th to the 1st millennia BC. Oxford: Oxbow.Google Scholar
Wilkinson, T.C. 2014. The early TransCaucasian phenomenon in structural-systemic perspective: cuisine, craft and economy. Paleorient 40: 203–29. Scholar
Woolley, C.L. 1934. Ur excavations, volume II: the Royal Cemetery. London: British Museum; Philadelphia: Museum of the University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar