Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: Reconstructing ancient Near Eastern funerary practices through biomolecular isotopic and elemental analysis of anthropogenic sediments from the Royal Tomb at Qatna, Syria
Author: James, Matthew Anthony
ISNI:       0000 0004 2671 815X
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2008
Availability of Full Text:
Access from EThOS:
On its discovery in 2002, the subterranean Bronze Age royal tomb at Qatna was found to exhibit substantial darkened areas of sediment deposited upon the floor. The co-occurrence of archaeological artefacts and lack of evidence of external disturbance, suggested these to be anthropogenic in nature, likely corresponding to the residues of degraded funerary assemblages. Due to the poor state of morphological preservation of organic materials, analyses were undertaken of these unique sediments at the molecular and elemental level, in order to assess their value as a 'chemical sink' of human funerary ritual activity. Determination of the elemental composition of the darkened sediments revealed extensive enhancement of organic C (0.08% - 7.60%), N (0 - 1.02 %) and P (2889 - 45415 ppm), relative to control samples, thereby confirming their organic nature and identifying the main areas of activity. The main focus of this study was assessment of the biomolecular composition of the sediments as a means of detecting specific source organic materials. Examination of lipid extracts of the sediments through GC and GC/MS analysis, revealed lipid distributions indicative of complex mixtures of organic matter. Widespread input from plant derived matter was determined, with lipid distributions (e.g. plant sterols, n-alkanes, n-alkanols, wax esters) and archaeological evidence suggestive of the presence of plant epicuticular leaf waxes. Although being present throughout the tomb, these components were found to be particularly abundant within rectangular deposits associated with burial assemblages. The presence of cholesterol indicated an input from animal fat, within several sediments. Consideration of a suite of biomarker proxies provided strong evidence of animal fat in several locations of the main chamber. Compound-specific stable carbon isotope values of triacylglycerol derived fatty acids were found to be consistent with a human origin of these fats (Δ¹³C= -0.79 to 0.43‰). 4-Hydroxyproline was demonstrated as a useful chemical marker for the detection of degraded bone. One sediment deposit was found to contain distributions of n-alkanes, n-alkanols, wax esters and hydroxyl wax esters characteristic of beeswax, whilst no evidence for the utilisation of resins in burial practices was afforded. Contamination by lipid deriving from modern plant roots which penetrated parts of the tomb was proven to be negligible through radiocarbon determinations of lipid extracts. A remarkable discovery was the identification of indigoid and indirubinoid derivatives characteristic of the precious ancient dyes Royal Purple and Madder in a number of extracts (n=19). The composition of the dyes was rigorously determined through biomolecular analysis, utilising a suite of analytical techniques (HPLC, FTICR-MS, MALDI-MS and NMR). The dyes were shown by HPLC to be associated with fossilised textile remnants, determined by X-ray diffraction to be preserved as gypsum replicas. This constitutes one of the earliest identification of the dyes, whilst the widespread occurrence in sediment extracts and association with human remains, revealed the first direct evidence for their importance within the Bronze Age royal funerary setting.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available