Mysterious Ancient Mound in Syria Likely the Oldest War Memorial Found—10 Things You Should Know

The burial mound has been dated to at least 4,300-4,400 years ago.

Аrchaeologists have unearthed the world’s oldest war memorial in northeastern Syria. After several years of excavations on a man-made hill in Tell Banat, similar to the pyramid of Djoser, archaeologists have determined that there is an unusual burial complex. The burial ground dates back to the third millennium BC and contains the remains of adult men and adolescents, buried along with military attributes.


The Banat-Bazi settlement complex formed on the left bank of the Euphrates River in Upper Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC. Archaeologists have been studying it since the 1990s. The territory of the archaeological site with a total area of ​​more than 32 hectares is located within Syria.

In addition to the ancient settlement, there are two man-made burial mounds within its borders. One of them – Tell Banat North – was named “White Monument” because of the white gypsum-marly surface of the slopes.

Location of the oldest war memorial in the world. Credit: Porter et al. / Antiquity, 2021
Location of the oldest war memorial in the world. Credit: Porter et al. / Antiquity, 2021

10 Things you should know about the oldest war memorial in the world

1. American and Canadian archaeologists led by Anne Porter from the University of Toronto, while investigating the archaeological complex of the Tell Banat settlements and burial grounds, discovered burials with an unusual burial rite never seen before.

A look at the monument prior excavations. Credit: Euphrates Salvage Project
A look at the monument prior to excavations. Credit: Euphrates Salvage Project

2. The man-made hill turned out to be a war memorial. The researchers determined that the 22-meter-high conical embankment was built in three stages. Initially, it consisted of one small burial mound or a complex of several burial mounds.

3. The first burials were covered with a layer of marl and the burial ground was reused. For the third time, Tell Banat North underwent a global redevelopment. A large embankment above the early burials was completed around 2400 BC, and its height was increased with wide earthen steps.

Illustration showing the sections of the White Monuments. Credit: Porter et al. / Antiquity, 2021
Illustration showing the sections of the White Monuments. Credit: Porter et al. / Antiquity, 2021

4. Each step contained no less than thirty burials containing the remains of adult and adolescent males along with military equipment. In some cases, burials were accompanied by donkey skins (researchers consider them to be a hybrid with a horse and call them “kunga”).

5. In other cases, in the burials, accumulations of biconical clay granules were found, which most likely served as charges for the sling. Accumulations of such “bullets” were found in large numbers under the wall fortifications of the settlement, along with other signs of a siege.

Clay sling bullets. Credit: Porter et al. / Antiquity, 2021
Clay sling bullets. Credit: Porter et al. / Antiquity, 2021

6. There is a clear pattern in the burial set; the buried can be divided into two groups: charioteers and infantry. The chariot graves contain the remains of donkeys, which in Mesopotamia were traditionally harnessed to chariots. In the burials of foot soldiers, sling bullets were found.

7. In order to identify the burials on the mountain in Tell Banat, scientists turned to the victorious inscriptions on the steles, traditional for Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC.

8. The famous Stele of the Vultures of the Sumerian ruler Eannatum contains a graphic image of the fallen dead enemies piled in a high pile of dead bodies and a victorious promise to the god of war Ningirsu: “the mountain of their corpses will reach Heaven.”

The famous Stele of the Vultures. Credit: Porter et al. / Antiquity, 2021
The famous Stele of the Vultures. Credit: Porter et al. / Antiquity, 2021

Scientists have suggested that the first archaeological confirmation of the cruel promise was found in Tell Banat. But long-term studies of the mound have shown that this is not the case.

9. A number of signs indicate that the mound was not a mass grave of those killed in the battle, and the remains of the dead were taken to the hill and piled into pits much later than their deaths. Tell Banat became a secondary burial site for them. The main argument in favor of ritual reburial is the significant fragmentation and mixing of bone remains.

The surface of the White Monument, the oldest war memorial, which was covered in gypsum. Credit: Antiquity Publications Ltd / Anne Porter et al / Euphrates Salvage Project
The surface of the White Monument, the oldest war memorial, which was covered in gypsum. Credit: Antiquity Publications Ltd / Anne Porter et al / Euphrates Salvage Project

10. Archaeologists believe the bones may have been moved from another cemetery or from the battlefield. The burials at the White Monument do not look like a chaotic accumulation of bodies of a defeated enemy. The residents of Tell Banat built a memorial for their own people and took care of the meticulous decoration of the large-scale memorial, the construction of which required the efforts of a large number of people.


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Sources:

David, A. (2021, May 28). Mysterious mound in Syria may be oldest war memorial in the world, archaeologists say.
The Guardian. (2021, May 27). Site in Syria could be world’s oldest war memorial, study finds.
Jarus, O. (2021, May 31). Pyramid-shaped mound holding 30 corpses may be world’s oldest war monument.
Porter, A., McClellan, T., Wilhelm, S., Weber, J., Baldwin, A., Colley, J., Enriquez, B., Jahrles, M., Lanois, B., Malinov, V., Ragavan, S., Robins, A., & Safi, Z. (2021, May 28). “Their corpses will reach the base of heaven”: a third-millennium BC war memorial in northern Mesopotamia?: Antiquity.

Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.
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