Umm el-Marra

Tuba (now called Umm el-Marra), east of modern Aleppo in the Jabbul Plain of northern Syria, was one of the ancient Near East's oldest cities, located on a crossroads of two trade routes northwest of Ebla, in a landscape that was much more fertile than it is today. Apparently this is the city of Tuba mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions listing cities that were defeated or destroyed in the empire's north Syrian campaign.

Tuba probably had three to five thousand inhabitants between 2800 BCE and about 2100/2000 BCE, when Tuba and other cities in the Jabbul Plain experienced a mysterious collapse of central authority that lasted about 200 years. Partial answers to the question, why these early centers were so brittle, may lie in the effects of sustained drought on overstressed primitive agriculture. Dr Glenn Schwartz of Johns Hopkins, who has been doing field archaeology at Umm el-Marra, suggested in 1994 that "they placed extensive demands on their environments, continually intensifying their agriculture to feed more people. The added stress from a few dry years may have been the straw that broke the camel's back." Simple daily life went on in Tuba, for the site was never completely abandoned, but at the renaissance of the city in 1800 BCE, Amoritic names were now in control. Tuba went on to enjoy a second period of prosperity and power, as a "subsidiary capital" of the still shadowy kingdom of Yamkhad.

A rare intact, unlooted tomb, ca. 2300 BCE, uncovered by Dr. Schwartz's team in 2000 at the Tuba site, made science press headlines, for it contained five richly-adorned adults and three babies, some of whom were ornamented head-to-toe in gold and silver. It may be the oldest intact possibly royal tomb yet to be found in Syria. Dr. Schwartz noted of peculiar aspects in the burial that they 'may hint at ritual characteristics, rather than a tomb simply reserved for royalty or elite individuals.' The interment, which was above ground in ancient times, included three layers of skeletons in wooden coffins lined with textiles. The top layer includes traces of two coffins, each containing a young woman in her twenties and a baby. The women were the most richly ornamented of all the occupants of the tomb, with jewelry of silver, gold and lapis lazuli. Also of interest on this level was an accompanying lump of iron, possibly from a meteorite. One of the babies appeared to be wearing a bronze torque, or collar.

In the layer below were coffins of two adult males and the remains of a baby at some distance from both men, close to the entrance of the tomb. This differs from the placement of the babies in the upper layer, where they were placed next to the women's bodies. Crowning the older man was a silver diadem decorated with a disk bearing a rosette motif, while the man opposite had a bronze dagger. The third and lowest layer held an adult male with a silver cup and silver pins.

All the individuals were accompanied by scores of ceramic vessels, some of which contained animal bones that may have been part of funerary animal offerings. Outside the tomb to the south, against the tomb wall, was a jar containing the remains of a baby, a spouted jar, and two decapitated skulls, horselike but apparently belonging neither to horses or donkeys.

The ceramics in the tomb date to around 2300 B.C., the latter part of Egypt's pyramid age.

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