Archaeological discovery of two graves reveal new information on the burial traditions of the Urartu civilisation in Turkey’s Van province, going back 2,750 years.

Excavations that started five years ago in Van’s Gurpinar municipality, in Cavustepe Castle, have revealed a necropolis including two graves belonging to the Urartu period. The castle, commissioned by Urartu King Sarduri II in 750 BC and the necropolis (where mass burial grounds and graves are in archaeological cities) in the northern sector were excavated, revealing new information about Urartu burial rites and lifestyles.

Professor Rafet Cavusoğlu of the Van Yuzuncu Yil University (YYU) Faculty of Letters Archaeology Department is leading the dig. Ancient Origins reports the excavation team of 25 comprises anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, city planners and restorers.

Cavusoglu says that previously they had seen cists, burial rooms and burial in earth and urns after cremation. “Now we have come across a new type of grave. The bodies are lined up next to a platform, which gives us new insight into Urartu burial practices.”

According to Cavusoglu, whose team is carrying out the excavation with the permission of the Culture and Tourism Ministry, the two new graves belong to an adult, and to a child, buried in a fetal position. The archaeologists examining the graves discovered that the valuable grave goods of the deceased were missing and their bones were in another location.

Prof Dr Rafet Cavusoglu leads the excavation team of 25.
Prof Dr Rafet Cavusoglu leads the excavation team of 25. (Ozkan Bilgin / AA)

The head of the excavation, Prof Dr Rafet Cavusoglu tells Anadolu Agency that they are primarily carrying out conservation and protection work in the Cavustepe Castle, which was initially excavated from 1961 to 1986.

Cavusoglu advises that they have been digging in the necropolis area of the castle since 2017 and during this time have discovered important archaeological information about Urartu archaeology and burial traditions. The new type graves have given the team more information.

Cavusoglu notes that the grave of the adult has been disturbed during its time, saying they believe that the body was probably buried with their jewelry. They expect to have a clearer answer as they continue to dig, he says, while the fact that there are no accompanying goods and the corpse was found in disarray, suggests destruction.

“We found the head of the corpse next to the feet, their spine somewhere else, in disarray. One might think that the tomb was opened by treasure hunters to take the jewelry, but we found no evidence of a [recent] illegal excavation other than in its own era.”

Cavusoglu speaks of a stone row architectural structure in the burial grounds, and that they’ve discovered a grave that’s dissimilar to the classic Urartu graves.

An aerial view of the Urartu excavation site in Van, Turkey.
An aerial view of the Urartu excavation site in Van, Turkey. (Ozkan Bilgin / AA)

Cavusoglu also mentions they’ve come across a new grave tradition, saying that the new graves are buried on an axis at the foot of an area surrounded by three rows of stone similar to fortification walls. “Right at the foot of the wall, we discover bodies buried ‘inhumation’ style.”

Cavusoglu comments that while Urartu necropolises have been dug up many times before, this burial tradition finding is an unusual one. “First of all, there is an architectural structure that is orderly, but no adobe structure above it. They have made something like a platform. We see inhumation burials within half to one metre of this structure.”

There are no accompanying goods and the skeleton was found in disarray, suggesting destruction.
There are no accompanying goods and the skeleton was found in disarray, suggesting destruction. (Ozkan Bilgin / AA)

These burials, he says, represent a special place for us and for the area in terms of Urartu necropolises and Urartu burial traditions. “We believe the burial ground was used 2,750 years before our time.”

The Urartu civilisation was an Iron Age kingdom, also referred to as the Kingdom of Van in some sources. It was centered in the area around Lake Van and the mountainous plateau region between the Caucasus Mountains, the Iranian Plateau, Mesopotamia and Anatolia. It was established around the mid-ninth century BC and enjoyed considerable political power in the Middle East before disappearing in the 6th century BC.

The Cavustepe Castle is in the Gurpinar district of Van province and represents the Urartu culture at its zenith. There were two sections to the castle: The upper part, which once housed a temple dedicated to the Urartian storm god Khaldi, and the lower castle, which houses a variety of buildings.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies