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Burial Mound Reinterpreted as Oldest War Memorial in the World

Burial Mound Reinterpreted as Oldest War Memorial in the World

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Dating to around 2300 BC archaeologists have discovered what they suspect is the “oldest known war memorial ever discovered” at the  'White Monument’ at Tell Banat in Syria. And while for decades this burial mound was thought to hold the bodies of dead enemies of the settlement, it turns out to contain the remains of local warriors.

Ancient Mesopotamian texts reference war memorials where the corpses of enemies are piled, although none have ever been found. This statement was made in a  new paper  published in the journal  Antiquity by Professor Anne Porter of University of Toronto, Canada, who concludes that the memorial appears to have been for the community s battle dead, rather than enemies.

Buried For Glory To Stand The Tests Of Time

Archaeologists discovered the 4,000-year-old monument when they were involved on a project re-analyzing finds from the settlement complex of Banat-Bazi in Syria which was occupied nearly 5,000-years-ago. The new evidence suggests the massive mound might be the oldest known war memorial ever found, and the researchers describe it as a site where “the community 's battle dead were interred and celebrated.”

The excavation of the White Monument has revealed many of the archaeological layers that make up the ancient burial site and according to the new paper one of the biggest clues that told Dr Porter this was not a site for dead enemies was “the organization”. By this the writer means the deceased warriors were found carefully laid with chariots in what is a much more ‘organized’ and respectful format that was extended to enemy soldiers killed on the battlefield.

Looking north to Tell Banat North from Jebel Bazi, prior to excavation (Courtesy of the Euphrates Salvage Project /  Antiquity Publications Ltd ).

Stepping Into The Afterlife
The large artificial mound, known as the “White Monument,” is located just outside the ancient settlement at Tell Banatand it was a localized sacred site. The mound, which connects this world with the sky, would have served as a stage for elaborate community wide death rituals and burial rites. The new analysis has revealed that the White Monument was “modified around 2400 BC,” and this is why it is being described as “the oldest known war memorial ever discovered” in the new paper.

4,000-years-ago when agriculture was becoming the new way of life, the mound was fully-functional and it would have “looked much like the Stepped  Pyramid of Saqqara, and was about the same size, but it was made of dirt, not stone,” wrote Professor Porter. According to the new paper, the transformation involved in the construction of horizontal steps over the original mound told the team that “at least 30 people were buried within these steps,” and they were right.

Part of the ‘Stele of the Vultures’ seems to represent corpses piled up vertically in the mound burial site. ( Antiquity Publications Ltd ).

A Burial Mound Of War

Analysis of the human remains excavated from beneath these steps showed a high number of adults and young adults who appear to have been buried with military gear including “slingers’ pellets and the skins of kunga, a donkey-like equid breed seen pulling vehicles in ancient art.” Professor Porter said the excavators recognized that there were pairs of bodies with skins of equids in one part of the monument, single individuals with earthen pellets in the other,” which are thought to reflect  chariot teams and different ranks of soldier.

In conclusion, the author of the new paper reminds us that just like today ancient people also honored their loved ones who were killed in battle. She said that while archaeologists “do not know whether they were the victors or the losers of that battle” all indications suggest they were the former, and that the legendary  chariot warriors of an unknown battle would be seen, remembered and glorified for all of time.

However, when you look at the size of this mound and consider it is crafted on the bones of dead men, and boys, contrary to the professor’s words, it serves as a stark reminder that there are no winners in war.

The full paper is available to view from  Antiquity Publications Ltd , DOI:  https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2021.58

Top image: The  'White Monument’ at  Tell Banat  in Syria Source:  Antiquity Publications Ltd

By Ashley Cowie

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