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An ancient child skeleton. Representational only – not the skeleton found in Turkey.  Credit: Scott Haddow / Flickr

5,700-Year-Old Child Skeleton with Crushed Head Found in Turkey


Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a child who died in the Copper Age, 5,700 years ago, in Turkey. The skeleton, believed to be that of a 6- or 7-year-old, was found in the ruins of a prehistoric dwelling and displayed signs of trauma.

According to Hurriyet Daily News, the burial was found by a team of Italian archaeologists at the Mound of Arslantepe which means ‘hill of lions’. These experts have been working at the site on behalf of the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry and the Italian Archaeological Expedition of the Sapienza University of Rome. The site is located on the right bank of the Upper Euphrates and is near the modern city of Arslantepe, in Eastern Turkey and it is some 92 feet (30-metre) high.

Grave of an Ancient Child

During excavations at the Arslantepe mound, archaeologists came across the ruins of a house that they dated from the Chalcolithic period or the Copper Age. In the ruins, they found the small skeleton of a child lying the fetal position. Despite the passage of time, the remains are remarkably preserved.

The skeleton was intact, but the skull had been smashed and it is not known if this happened before or after the burial of the child.  No cause of death has been established, but it is possible that it died because of some trauma.

The Daily Mail also reports that “the position of the skeleton suggests the child was frightened and had curled itself into the fetal position, wrapping its arms around its body”. However, it is also possible that the child had intentionally been placed in this position for the burial.

Beads Offer Clues

There were no burial goods found in the grave, apart from some beads on the child. Dr. Marcelle Frangipane, from the University of Rome and who led the expedition,  stated that 'We found beads on the arms and neck of the child, which we have not seen before’, reports the Daily Mail.   These indicate that the child probably came from a family that was a member of the aristocracy or nobility. 

The find of the child with the beads is just the latest important discovery at the Mound of Arslantepe. This area was granted the status of a UNESCO Tentative List of World Heritage on April 15, 2014.  It has been the home of many important civilizations down the millennia, because of its neighboring wetlands and the fertility of the region’s soil.

The History of Arslantepe

The area around Arslantepe, just outside Malatya in eastern Turkey, has been almost continuously inhabited since at least the Copper Age. Archaeologists have found seals and a statue of a monarch, that date from the Iron Age and a palace complex. This is a sprawling series of mud building that extends for 700 square feet (2000 square meters). According to Hurriyet Daily News, this probably indicates that it was ‘the first city-state in Anatolia’.

The site later became the capital of the mighty Hittite Empire which ruled much of modern Turkey and the Levant in ancient times. It has also been suggested that Arslantepe was the location where the first ever metal swords were forged.  Some believe that it was also where the first hierarchical, centralized and bureaucratic society developed. The area was densely populated in Roman and Byzantine times.

Dr. Frangipane stated that her team “are waiting for the results of the examination to discover the gender, genetic structure, age and cause of death of the child as well as the diet of era” reports AA.  The results can tell us not only about the life of the unfortunate child but also about his or her time and society. The discovery of the skeleton will allow us to better understand the history of Arslantepe, which is providing so many remarkable insights into the prehistoric and ancient past.

Top image: An ancient child skeleton. Representational only – not the skeleton found in Turkey.  Credit: Scott Haddow / Flickr

By Ed Whelan






Gary Moran's picture

Need to check your math Ed.700 sq ft is hardly sprawling, but 2000 sq meters is pretty good sized.

Interesting article though. 

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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