Excavations at a site in southeastern Turkey has revealed the more than 2,500-year-old remains of a woman and a child who were buried with several previously slaughtered and butchered turtles.
Most of the turtles belonged to the Euphrates softshell species, known for their aggression.
The unique burial was found at Kavuşan Höyük, a multi-period mound site on the southern bank of the Tigris River, some six miles from the modern town of Bismil in Turkey.
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Dated to the late Iron Age, which is known locally as the post-Assyrian period, the pit revealed the skeletons of a 6-7-year-old child and a woman aged between 45 and 55 years.
Lying face down, the infant, whose sex wasn't identified, had the left leg bent at the knee and the right leg fully extended. The right arm lay under the body, while the left was stretched above the shoulder, as if protecting the face.
"A broken iron fibula grave good that was placed next to the skull may indicate that the child was a girl," Rémi Berthon, archaeozoologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, Güriz Kozbe, professor of archaeology at the Batman University, Turkey, and colleagues wrote in the latest issue of Antiquity.
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Directly beneath the child, was the female skeleton, lying on her back in a semi-flexed position. No evidence of trauma related to a violent death was found in both skeletons.
Since ancient DNA analyses were not performed, the researchers have no information on the relationship between the adult women and the child.
"We know that the child and the woman were buried in a short time range because the woman's skeleton, found just below the child, has not been disturbed when the child's body was placed into the grave," Berthon told Discovery News.
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All around the edge of the pit, the archaeologists found numerous remains of turtles. Two carapaces and some scattered skeletal elements were also found in the middle of the grave.
One of the centrally deposited shells belonged to a spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca), 17 remains were of Euphrates soft-shelled turtles (Rafetus euphraticus) and three belonged to Middle Eastern terrapins(Mauremys caspica).
"Although the Middle Eastern terrapin is very common in eastern Turkey, this is the first evidence of its use as a grave good. Finding Euphrates soft-shelled turtles in a burial is unprecedented as well," Berthon said.
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Characterized by an olive-green leathery skin that covers the carapace, the Euphrates softshell turtles are primarily known as having a carnivorous diet, although they also feed on plants and vegetables.
"They are also scavengers and have frequently been observed feeding on the drifting carcasses of various mammals, which can be as large as a horse," the researchers wrote.