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A least 30 individual are represented by the bones in the Qatna "burial cellar." Other finds include many stone jars imported from Egypt, gold jewelry in an alabaster pot, and a stone cosmetic holder with a monkey. (Wita/Pfälzner, Universität Tübingen)

What can you say about Qatna, Syria? It's produced one amazing find after another for the German-Syrian team of Michel al-Maqdissi, Directorate General of Antiquities, and Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen. (See "Messages from the Dead" for earlier discoveries at the site.) This year an unplundered "tomb-cellar" was found under the the northwest wing of the royal palace with hundreds of artifacts as well as human bones from 1600-1400 B.C.

There were 30 skulls suggesting at least that many individuals were placed there, likely members of the royal family or household. The bones were not in anatomical position but stacked in groups, indicating that these were secondary burials (perhaps even of earlier royals buried elsewhere and later moved to the tomb-cellar. There were numerous pottery and stone vessels. The stone ones are very interesting. Some are of granite and come from Egypt, BUT the are from the Old Kingdom, a thousand years before these burials. What's the explanation for that? One of the alabaster vessels, possibly from Egypt, held a cache of gold jewelry. In other parts of tomb, were gold foils (textile or furniture decoration?), a bronze spearhead and dress pin, gold dress pin, and a lapis cylinder seal and a seal in the shape of a scarab, and an ivory human statuette. And what artifact could be more inspiring than the sculpture of a monkey holding a cosmetic jar?

The finds are neat, but what I am really looking forward to are the osteological report on the 30 people, and DNA and bone chemistry analysis. What was their health? How did they die? Were they all related, or were some perhaps from other city-states or empires, at Qatna in marriages of political alliance?

More Top Discoveries of 2009