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Scienze dell’antichità

Storia Archeologia Antropologia


Università degli studi di Roma «La Sapienza»

Dipartimento di scienze storiche archeologiche
e antropologiche dell’antichità

Direttore responsabile
Gilda Bartoloni

M. Barbanera, B.E. Barich, G. Bartoloni, G.M. Forni, G.L. Gregori,
M. Liverani, P. Matthiae, L. Michetti, L. Nigro, C. Panella

Segretaria di redazione
I. Brancoli Verger

Università degli studi di Roma «La Sapienza»



Evidenza ed interpretazione
di contesti funerari in abitato

Roma, 26-29 Aprile 2006

A cura di Gilda Bartoloni e M. Gilda Benedettini

Giulio Palumbi*

From Collective Burials to Symbols of Power.

The translation of role and meanings of the stone-lined cist
burial tradition from Southern Caucasus to the Euphrates valley

«The landscape is never inert, people engage with it,

re-work it, appropriate and contest it. It is part of
the way in which identities are created and disputed,
whether as individual, group or nation-state.»
B. Bender, Introduction. Landscape-Meaning and Action, Oxford 1993.

The place and the ritual chosen to bury a dead person, be s/he a family member, a friend
or the chief of a community are generally a meaningful and symbolic social act1. This is because
dead people (either their bodies or their memories) are important for the living as much as the
past is fundamental for the cultural and political construction of the present2.
At the beginning of the third millennium, after the so-called Uruk expansion, a new fu-
nerary tradition (the stone-lined cists) appears first in the Upper Euphrates valley and later on,
crossing the Taurus mountains, also in northern Syria. The adoption of a tradition originating
from very distant regions (Southern Caucasus or Transcaucasia) and from a totally different
cultural background (Kura-Araks) highlights that a set of profound social and cultural changes
were taking place in the Syro-Anatolian communities. Moreover, the construction of these fu-
nerary structures for some elite intramural tombs is also the sign that they were being involved
in symbolic dynamics managed and codified by new emerging groups which were challenging
the former elites by undertaking a process of social re-organisation which was also accompa-
nied by forms of political and cultural reorientation.


Even if the matter is still under broad discussion, it is generally accepted that the first
emergence of the Kura-Araks culture should be located in Southern Caucasus (Georgia, Ar-

*  Università degli Studi di Roma «La Sapienza».   Hubert 1994; Layton 1989; McGuire 1992, pp.
  Parker Pearson 1999, pp. 124, 193-197; Chap- 215-218.
man - Randsborg 1981; Goldstein 1981.
142 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.

Fig. 1. – The Kura-Araks cultural area and the directions of its expansion.

menia, Azerbaijan) around the middle of the fourth millennium BC3. But while these initial
and «formative» stages can be exclusively located in Transcaucasia, the history of the devel-
opment of this culture cannot be split up from the growing involvement of the communities
of the nearby regions (Eastern Anatolia and Iranian Azerbaijan) in this same phenomenon
(fig. 1).
The Kura-Araks material assemblage shows since the beginning a distinctive and original
set of traits, which does not share any continuity or similarities with the late-chalcolithic cul-
tures from Southern Caucasus.
Kura-Araks pottery probably represents one of the most distinctive traits of this culture.
It is a monochrome and red-black burnished production, showing an original morphological

  Kiguradze - Sagona 2003; Palumbi 2003a.
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 143

Fig. 2. – a) Monochrome burnished jar with relief spiral from Keti (Archaeological Museum of Gyumri); b) Jar
from Samshvilde (Tbilisi State Museum); c) Monochrome burnished bowl from Treli (Archaeological Museum of
Tbilisi); d) Red-black burnished bowl from Keti (Archaeological Museum of Gyumri); e) Jar from Didube (Tbilisi
State Museum).

repertoire which is often characterised by the constant presence of knobs, lugs and handles
which stress daily needs of transportation of the ceramic containers (fig. 2, a-e)4.

  Palumbi 2003a, pp. 103-105.
144 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.

Fig. 3. – a) Wattle and daub domestic architecture from Kvatskhelebi level C1 (from Dzhavakhishvili - Glonti 1962,
pl. 19); b) Khizaant Gora, level D, wattle and daub architecture (from Kivkidze 1972, pl. 5).
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 145

«Light» wooden architecture, pits, isolated fireplaces and portable andirons often charac-
terise the way Kura-Araks communities occupied and used their settlements (fig. 3, a-b). This
is also in relation to the enlarged territorial occupation (going from the plains and river-valleys
to the highland pastures), which also seems to be aimed at exploiting the full potential of re-
sources available in the region5. All these aspects taken together suggest that these temporary
(and often discontinuous) forms of occupation can be the result of a territorial mobility which
could have characterised, from the beginnings, the life-style of the Kura-Araks communities6.
Compared with these light and mobile forms of occupation (especially in the earliest stag-
es of development of the Kura-Araks culture), the funerary structures often represent more
solid and permanent traces.
Kura-Araks Funerary Traditions
The Kura-Araks burial traditions can be summarised as follows7:
- Earthen pits (fig. 4, a)
- Horse-shoe shaped tombs (fig. 4, c)
- Stone-lined cists (fig. 4, b)
These different burial customs can be single or collective, they seem to appear all at the
same time and sometimes can be hosted in the same cemetery (like at Elar or Kiketi)8. But
while skeletons are generally primary burials in the single tombs, often skeletons are not com-
plete and are not in anatomical connection in the collective ones. This is probably because,
every time the tomb had to be re-opened, the common practice was to select the bones of the
last deceased and heaped them up in the corner in order to make space for the new body (fig.
5, a-b).
Even if it has not yet been proved, it seems likely that the collective tombs have hosted
people belonging to the same group or who were linked together by similar ties of kinship
(family tombs).
Grave Goods
The inventory of the funerary goods is generally narrow and rather poor. Apart from the
ceramic vessels (which are common and sometimes abundant), spindle-whorls, flint and bone-
tools, lime-stone and semiprecious-stone necklaces usually are the average range of objects
found in the Kura-Araks tombs (fig. 6, a-b). Valuable grave-goods such as metal objects are
rare (with some rich exception like tomb 2 at Kvatskhelebi) and they are usually represented
by double-spiral headed pins and hair spirals (fig. 6, c, e) (more rarely bracelets, metal pen-
dants, daggers or spear-heads). The diadem from Kvatskhelebi (fig. 6, d) is an unicum9.
Tombs and Settlements
Apparently, there are not precise rules in the spatial relationships between tombs and
settlements. In some cases (Samshvilde and Amiranis Gora for instance), funerary areas are
close to the nearby settlement10, but cases of isolated cemeteries (like at Kiketi, Koda and Keti)

5 8
  Kiguradze 2000; Kiguradze - Sagona 2003, p.   Khanzadian 1979; Pkhakadze 1963.
40.   Glonti et al. in press.
6 10
  Burney - Lang 1971, pp. 56-57.   Mirtskhulava 1975; Chubinishvili 1963;
  Sagona 2004. Khoridze - Palumbi in press.
146 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.

Fig. 4. – a) Collective earthen-pit burial from Aradetis Orgora (from Khoridze - Palumbi in press); b) Stone-lined
cist from Elar (from Khanzadian 1979, fig. 42); c) Collective horse-shoe shaped burial from Kiketi (courtesy of G.
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 147

Fig. 5. – a) Collective stone-lined cists from Keti (from Petrosian 1989, pl. 25); b) Collective stone-lined cists from
Samshvilde (from Mirtskhulava 1975, pl. 22, 32).
148 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.

Fig. 6. – a) Necklace (carnelian, rock-crystal, lime-stone) from the Kvatskhelebi burials (Tbilisi State Museum); b)
Bone spindle-whorls and incised bone-tool from the Kvatskhelebi burials (Tbilisi State Museum); c) Double-spiral
headed pin from the Kvatskhelebi burials (Tbilisi State Museum); d) Diadem from the Kvatskhelebi burials (Tbilisi
State Museum); e) Silver hair-spirals from the Kvatskhelebi burials (Tbilisi State Museum).
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 149

are also quite common11. It seems likely that in the Kura-Araks culture the separation between
the living and the funerary areas is rather sharp and that intramural tombs are not a common
But what do the Kura-Araks burial traditions want to express and what are the basic prin-
ciples structuring their funerary representation?
According to the quantity and quality of the grave goods on display, Kura-Araks burial
customs do not emphasize any clear status differentiation, or vertical social stratification12. It
is rather the opposite, especially in the case of the collective burials, where Kura-Araks tombs
seem to stress the centrality of the family and of horizontal social relations founded on mar-
riages, alliances or group affiliation.
Focusing now on the collective stone-lined cists, that is time-enduring stone boxes host-
ing in the same place bodies of people related to each other through ties of kinship, descent or
membership, it has already been pointed out that they should be contemporary with the other
Kura-Araks burial customs. The ceramic assemblage from the stone-lined cists of the cemeter-
ies of Kiketi, Koda and Samshvilde and one C14 dating from the Horom cist (3350-3050 1
sigma) confirm that these structures were in use in Southern Caucasus in the last quarter of the
fourth millennium (if not earlier)13.


Starting from the end of the fourth millennium it is possible to record a clear and power-
ful process of expansion of the Kura-Araks culture towards Eastern Anatolia which is wit-
nessed by the growing presence of traits of clear Transcaucasian provenance in the cultural
substratum of the Eastern Anatolian communities. This process is clearly visible in many as-
pects of the material culture of the few excavated settlements of Eastern Anatolia (Sos Höyük
and Karaz in the Erzurum region and Karagündüz and Dilkaya in the Van area) where ceramic
production, building traditions, fixed and mobile house-furnishings (such as portable andirons
and horse-shoe shaped zoomorphic or anthropomorphic hearts) are all clearly inspired to the
Kura-Araks traditions and share with them a wide range of similar traits14.
A realistic interpretation of this process should take into account the interaction between
multiple factors. For sure this was the effect of the intensification of the relationships between
the southern Caucasian and the Eastern-Anatolian communities and of the absorption of the
latter into the Kura-Araks sphere of influence.
Periodical waves of pastoralists (or small farmers) moving from Southern Caucasus to
the surrounding regions have often been the traditional explanation for this phenomenon15.

  Pkhakadze 1963, p. 138; Petrosian 1989. Turfan 1959, pp. 389-408; Közbe 2004, pp. 39-40, figg.
  Khol 1992. 5-8; Çilingiroğlu 1986, figg. 5-8.
13 15
  Badaljan et al. 1993, p. 4; Badaljan et al. 1994,   Sagona 1984, pp. 138-139, maps C-D;
p. 14. Kushnareva 1997; Rothman 2003.
  Kiguradze - Sagona 2003, pp. 45-49; Koşay -
150 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.

Nevertheless reiterated arrivals of newcomers cannot alone account for the deep impact which
the Kura-Araks model had on the Eastern Anatolian populations. We are dealing with such
profound changes, that it is impossible not to hypothesise a direct and positive involvement (a
will of change) of the Anatolian communities in their relationships with the southern Cauca-
sian ones. And not only did these changes affect the material forms of the daily life, but they
also had profound consequences on their beliefs, their ceremonial and their ritual practices.


The end of the Late-Uruk phenomenon in the Upper Euphrates valley was rather abrupt.
The communities of the Malatya and Elazığ regions (now politically reorganised) were inter-
acting and negotiating between an eastern area (of mountains and highlands) now part of the
Kura-Araks world and a southern region (of lowlands and steppes), where the «post-Uruk»
transition probably was less traumatic than in the north16.
Arslantepe VIB1 and VIB2
After the violent destruction of the palace in phase VIA (somewhere around 3100 BC),
at the beginning of the third millennium and for approximately one century, the site of Ar-
slantepe became a temporary settlement (phase VIB1 3100-2900 BC) occupied by groups liv-
ing in wattle and daub structures (fig. 7, a-b) and producing a hand-made monochrome and
red-black pottery of clear Kura-Araks influence (fig. 7, c-d)17. Faunal data from phase VIB1
witness a specialised animal husbandry clearly focused on the ovicaprines (70%) and suggest
that the VIB1 settlers were local groups of pastoralists who, owing to their subsistence activi-
ties and to their mobile life-style, were entertaining stable relationships with the Kura-Araks
communities from Eastern Anatolia and Transcaucasia18.
The picture from the following phase VIB2 (2900-2750 BC) is radically different from
the former. A massive mud-brick wall (which probably protected an acropolis) is surrounded
by a small (and probably later) village organised into a set of residential units19. Pottery and
metalwork productions from phase VIB2 belong to the «Late-Reserved Slip Horizon». This is
a homogenous cultural facies which, in a mature phase of the EBI, stretched from the Altinova
plain (Elazığ) to northern Syria and linked the communities north and south of the Taurus
mountains in one single cultural area20.
The Arslantepe Royal Tomb
It is very likely that the construction of the tomb can be dated between phases VIB1 and
VIB2. Its funerary representation witnesses the cultural complexity of this region at the begin-
ning of the third millennium, highlighting the fact that local powers were not only transform-
ing their structural nature, but they were also changing referents according to the needs of the
new political and cultural environment.

16 19
  Palmieri 1985.   Frangipane - Palmieri 1983, pp. 529-536, 542‑560;
  Frangipane - Palmieri 1983. Frangipane 1993, pp. 80-86; Frangipane 2001a.
18 20
  Bartosiewicz 1998; Frangipane et al. 2005.   Palmieri 1985, p. 205.
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 151

Fig. 7. – a) Post-holes from phase VIB1 at Arslantepe (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in Anatolia Orien-
tale); b) Wattle and daub architecture from phase VIB1 at Arslantepe (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in
Anatolia Orientale); c) Monochrome burnished jar from Arslantepe VIB1 (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana
in Anatolia Orientale); d) Red-black burnished jar from Arslantepe VIB1 (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana
in Anatolia Orientale).
152 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.

Without going into a detailed description of the rich metal equipment of the lord buried
in the tomb and of the complex and dramatic ritual which also involved the sacrifice of four
young individuals, what I think it is important to stress is the strong cultural ambiguity ex-
pressed by the funerary goods on display21. If on the one hand, spear-heads, Plain-Simple and
Late-Reserved Slip vessels are a direct development of the Late Uruk cultural heritage (fig. 8,
a, c, d), on the other hand double spiral headed pins, hair spirals, diadems and the red-black
burnished vessels are clearly inspired to the contemporary Kura-Araks styles and repertoires
(fig. 8, b, e, f, g). Additionally (and very surprisingly), the rest of the metal artefacts from the
tomb (axes, chisels, gouges and metal containers) (fig. 9, a, b, c) recall the same grave goods
typical of the rich funerary assemblages of the Early Caucasian kurgans of the Majkop culture
(fig. 9, d, e, f)22.
In the royal tomb of Arslantepe, past is as important as present, and the old Uruk-derived
traditions dialogue with the new northern and southern Caucasian ones in a context which
reflects the changing political climate of the period. The scene and the centre of this funerary
representation is a stone-lined cist: a tradition originating from the Kura-Araks culture and
chosen at Arslantepe as the most suitable structure for an elite intramural tomb (fig. 10, a, c).
Rescue excavations carried out in the Karakaya dam brought to light two small stone-cist
cemeteries (very similar to the Transcaucasian ones) near the village of Suyatağı, on the left
bank of the Euphrates river23. An Early Bronze Age I dating for these cemeteries is confirmed
by the retrieval of both Plain-Simple and Red-Black Burnished vessels in the tombs (fig. 10, b).
If probably the Arslantepe royal tomb is one of the earliest cases of stone-lined cists found so-
far in the Upper Euphrates valley, the Suyatağı cemeteries could be the sign that this funerary
tradition was being progressively adopted in the Malatya plain and that the Arslantepe royal
tomb was not an isolated case.
The Arslantepe royal tomb, which is clearly a prestige and rank burial, reflects a period
where the borders of the Malatya plain were highly fluid, as a consequence of the political
and cultural redefinition of the local polities after the fall of the Late-Uruk oriented groups of
power and in connection with the growing influence of the Kura-Araks pole over the whole
region. Its location on the artificial mound means that after the destruction of the palace and
the collapse of the centralised political organisation, the site did not loose its importance. This
place was probably still central and meaningful in the memories and geographies of the local
people. Moreover, the frantic sequence of events which characterise its history at the beginning
of the third millennium could be the sign that this was contented between culturally and so-
cially different communities which had chosen different political referents outside the plain.
But unlike the Kura-Araks tombs, where the focus is on the horizontal, group and kinship
relations, the Arslantepe royal tomb, with its rich display of funerary goods, foregrounded the
existence of vertical social differences and of hierarchical relationships. The Kura-Araks stone
cist funerary tradition seems now readapted and encapsulated in the system of representation

  Frangipane et al. 2001; Hauptmann et al. Munchaev 1975, pp. 197-255.
2002, pp. 43-53; Palumbi 2004.   Darga 1989.
  Palumbi 2003b; Chernyk 1992, pp. 67-83;
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 153

Fig. 8. – a) Plain-Simple Ware jars from the Arslantepe Royal Tomb (T1) (Archivio Missione Archeologica Ita-
liana in Anatolia Orientale); b) Red-black burnished ware jarlet from the Arslantepe Royal Tomb (T1) (Archivio
Missione Archeologica Italiana in Anatolia Orientale); c) Spear-head from the Arslantepe Royal Tomb (T1) (Ar-
chivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in Anatolia Orientale); d) Spear-head from the Arslantepe Royal Tomb (T1)
(Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in Anatolia Orientale); e) Double-spiral headed pin from the Arslantepe
Royal Tomb (S150) (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in Anatolia Orientale); f) Silver hair-spiral from the
Arslantepe Royal Tomb (T1) (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in Anatolia Orientale); g) Diadem from the
Arslantepe Royal Tomb (S150) (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in Anatolia Orientale).
154 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.

Fig. 9. – a) Chisels and gouges from the Arslantepe Royal Tomb (T1) (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in
Anatolia Orientale); b) Axes from the Arslantepe Royal Tomb (T1) (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in
Anatolia Orientale); c) The metal containers from the Arslantepe Royal Tomb (T1) (Archivio Missione Archeologi-
ca Italiana in Anatolia Orientale); d) Metal tools from the cemetery of Klady-Novosvobodnaia (from Popova 1963:
pl. 8); e) Chisels and axes from the northern Caucasian kurgans (from Munchaev 1994, pl. 54; f) Metal containers
from the northern Caucasian kurgans (from Munchaev 1994, pl. 56).
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 155

Fig. 10. – a) The Arslantepe Royal Tomb with in situ materials (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in Anatolia
Orientale); b) Stone-lined cists from the cemetery at Suyatağı (from Darga 1989, figg. 1-3); c) The Arslantepe stone-
lined cist (Archivio Missione Archeologica Italiana in Anatolia Orientale).
156 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.

of a local group of power which, burying its chief in a monumental and historical place, was in
fact claiming and perhaps acquiring a legitimacy to its use and occupation24.
But the stone-lined cists did not widespread only in the Malatya plain, and few decades
later they became a common tradition even south of the Taurus mountains.


At Carchemiş stone-lined cists (fig. 11, b) and jar-burials dated to the Early Bronze Age
I have been excavated very close (but probably not inside) to the local settlement25. But while
jar-burials continue the local Late Chalcolithic and Late-Uruk traditions, the stone cists, single
and collective, represent a totally new phenomenon. Grave goods are mainly ceramic vessels
and more rarely metal artefacts, such as spear-heads, pins, chisels and axes (fig. 11, b).
More than 300 burials were excavated in the cemetery of Birecik, most of which were
stone-lined cists hosting single or multiple burials (fig. 11, c)26. This seems to have been an iso-
lated funerary area along the Euphrates river with no specific connection with the settlements
located in the surroundings.
Grave goods are represented by ceramic pots and metal objects (although the quantity of
metal items seems to be determined by the number of tombs rather than by the high concen-
tration of these artefacts in one single tomb) which basically belong to the same range of ob-
jects found in the Arslantepe royal tomb: spear-heads, axes and gauges (there is also one small
double spiral-headed pin) (fig. 11, d).
At Hacinebi, in the EBI, different burial traditions coexist: stone-lined cists, earthen-
pits and jar-burials were found one close to the other (fig. 12, b)27. These tombs were built in
the ancient mound, but their relationship with the contemporary inhabited area is not clear.
What is important to stress is the fact that they could have been contemporary with a level of
occupation characterised by light architecture (wooden structures) considered as the dwell-
ings of groups of squatters which occupied the settlement after the abandonment of the Late-
Chalcolithic levels (fig. 12, a)28. After the end of the Late-Uruk phase the site of Hacinebi (like
Arslantepe) changed its functions and became a temporary settlement.
Hassek Höyük
At Hassek Höyük, a long sequence of EBI levels develops after the conflagration of the
Late-Uruk buildings. Close to the settlement there is a jar-burial cemetery which is contem-
porary with these levels29. However, two other tombs, dated to level 0, were excavated in the

24 27
  Rothman 2003, pp. 105-106.   Stein et al. 1997.
25 28
  Woolley - Barnett 1952, pp. 218-222;   Stein et al. 1997, pp. 117-118.
Laneri 2004, pp. 122-124.   Behm-Blancke 1984.
  Sertok - Ergeç 1999.
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 157

Fig. 11. – a) The Upper Euphrates Valley and the sites mentioned in the text; b) Carchemiş, stone-lined cist (from
Woolley - Barnett 1952, fig. 85); c) Stone-lined cists from the Birecik cemetery (from Sertok - Ergeç 1999, fig. 6);
d) Metal grave-goods from the Birecik cemetery (from Sertok - Ergeç 1999, figg. 9-10).
158 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.

Fig. 12. – a) Post-hole architecture from the EBI levels at Hacinebi (from Stein et al. 1997, fig. 11); b) Stone-lined
cists at Hacinebi (from Stein et al. 1997, fig. 8); c) Grab 12 at Hassek Höyük (from Behm-Blancke 1984, fig. 7); d)
the metal grave-goods from Grab 12 at Hassek Höyük (from Behm-Blancke 1984, fig. 8).
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 159

settlement: Grab 12A and Grab 12, both dated to level 0. Level 0 should represent the latest
moments of the life of Hassek, that is the end of the EBI, after which the site was definitely
abandoned. In both cases their funerary inventory is much richer than in the burials from the
external cemetery. Grab 12A (or Sammelfund), which was heavily destroyed by later distur-
bances, contained ceramic vessels and metal objects: one pin, one axe, a chisel and one dagger30.
Grab 12, which was built with stone blocks, hosted the body of a man in contracted position
(fig. 12, c). Grave goods consist of a number of ceramic vessels and 8 metal objects (two spear-
heads, two axes and a dagger, a chisel a pin and a mace-head) which are very similar to the
same set of artefacts found in the Arslantepe royal tomb (as in the case of Grab 12A) and seem
to belong to a man who (like the Arslantepe lord) must have played a prominent role (fig. 12,
d)31. Once again, like at Arslantepe and Hacinebi, the construction of stone-lined tombs in the
settlement coincides with temporary and non stable forms of occupation of the site.


It is generally agreed that the impact of the Late-Uruk phenomenon over the major centres
of the periphery encouraged a further leap towards the social complexity in those «peripheral»
centres which were already in a stage of internal structural growth32. These structural changes
also involved aspects related to the organisation of the primary and the secondary production.
The shift towards the specialised animal husbandry, which is recorded on the Euphrates valley
(Arslantepe, Kurban Höyük, Hacinebi) in the second half of the fourth millennium, was prob-
ably a consequence of these structural transformations, which could have been encouraged by
the growing demand for secondary products, the emerging role played by the specialised sec-
tors of textile production and wool trade33.
The end of the Late-Uruk phenomenon probably had a profound impact over those cen-
tres which, more than others, had been involved in these interregional relationships of long-dis-
tance trade, triggering off a phase of political transition. South of the Taurus mountains, where
this transition between the Late-Uruk and the «Post-Uruk» times was probably smoother and
without dramatic cultural breaks, the new EBI settlement pattern records a growth in the num-
ber of sites and a general decrease of their dimensions34. The population of the Syro-Anatolian
Euphrates valley seems to have been more dispersed in a territory inhabited by small villages
which were probably interacting on a low level of regional economic integration. But despite
these changes, faunal data of the first half of the third millennium show that these communi-
ties continued the same specialised pastoral strategies of the IV millennium, which could have
required a more dispersed occupation of the territory for its more suitable exploitation35.

  Behm-Blancke 1981. gipane - Siracusano 1998; Green 1980; McCorriston
  Behm-Blancke 1984, pp. 50-53. 1997.
32 34
  Algaze 2001; Schwartz 2001; Stein 2001;   Lupton 1996, pp. 84-85; Wilkinson 1990, pp.
Frangipane 2001b. 94-97.
33 35
  Frangipane 2001b, p. 330; Zeder 1988; Fran-   Frangipane - Siracusano 1998, p. 241.
160 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.


I think it is hard to believe that the stone-lined cists from the Upper and Middle Euphra-
tes valley were built to host foreigners on the move or people originating from the Caucasus.
Firstly because the ceramic inventories from the tombs are exactly the same as those in use in
the contemporary settlements and secondly because the widespread diffusion of this tradition
also in the EBA II (Titriş and Lidar Höyük for instance) suggests a local and long-term adop-
tion of this funerary custom36. But which relationships occurred between the political, territo-
rial and economic changes taking place in the Middle and in the Upper Euphrates valley after
the end of the Late-Uruk phenomenon and the adoption in these same regions of a new burial
tradition which (in its beginnings) probably had foreign connotations and was extraneous to
the local ones?
It has already been suggested that in the Kura-Araks communities the collective stone-
cists could have expressed a sense of affiliation, consanguineity and group identity, represent-
ing some of the basic principles structuring the organisation of societies, which (as in the case
of the Kura-Araks communities) were characterised by a marked territorial mobility. It might
be in connection with these principles that the (EBI) stone-lined cists of the Euphrates valley
were built in order to host collective burials (see Birecik): that is places where individual iden-
tity disappears and merges into group membership. Their appearance could probably be the
symptom of the new (political) centrality acquired by the family organisation and the expres-
sion of restored relationships between family, descent and land.
The appeal that the Kura-Araks socio-cultural model exerted on the specialised pastoral
groups of the Malatya plain is well attested in phase VIB1 at Arslantepe and the same can be
said for the almost contemporary «Royal Tomb». But in the Euphrates valley, south of the Tau-
rus mountains, the relationships between the local communities and the Caucasian ones were
not direct, but probably mediated through and by the communities of the Upper Euphrates
(Malatya and Elazığ). However, despite this mediation, something originating far-away from
the Euphrates valley, was progressively leaking south of the Taurus mountains.
After the disappearance of the centralised and redistributive political organisations linked
to the Uruk system, the local communities could have undertaken a process of socio-economic
reorganisation. A shift towards a pastoral economy, the consequent growing mobility and the
need to affirm and express new identities and legitimise new forms of power (maybe compet-
ing with the earlier ones) could have encouraged the adoption of different socio-cultural mod-
els and maybe those connected and originating from the Caucasian region could have been the
most appropriate to the present historical context.
What is also interesting to observe is that the adoption of the stone-lined cists in the Syro-
Anatolian Euphrates valley was simultaneous with the appearance of grave goods, extraneous
to the traditional burial customs. Weapons (spear-heads, daggers or knives), Kura-Araks-like
body ornaments (double spiral headed pins and hair-spirals) and specialised working tools (axes,
chisels and gauges) are now part of new forms of representation of emerging groups who want

  Algaze et al. 1995; Honça - Algaze 1998; Hauptmann 1993; Carter - Parker 1995, p. 113, tab. 14.3.
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 161

to emphasise a more profane connotation of their powers. Courage and strength (warfare), in-
termediation ability (trade of raw materials and metal artefacts) and technical skills (wood carv-
ing, wood clearing or timber working, as if the leader role was symbolically intertwined with the
figure of the carpenter) seem to be the qualities which distinguish the new chiefs in opposition to
the older and more traditional powers which, in accordance to the southern Mesopotamian in-
fluences, could have emphasised more religious, administrative and maybe even peaceful traits.


It has been observed that during the transition between the end of the IV and the begin-
ning of the III millennium, there is a connection between changes in the use and function of
some settlements and the construction of intramural stone-lined cists which, at Arslantepe
and Hassek Höyük, hosted elite or rank burials. These transformations could be related to the
gradual emergence, in the Upper and Middle Euphrates valley, of groups which were increas-
ingly specialised in pastoral activities and leading a mobile life-style. Changes in settlement
functions could be related to the new subsistence strategies which also produced a new con-
ception of both the territory and the landscape.
In this historical contingency, building an elite tomb within or on the top of a settlement
could have been a polysemic act, seen as a territorial marker to claim rights over the place and the
surrounding grazing lands, but also a way to build an ancestral place in order to find symbolic
and physical connections with the past and legitimise or naturalise present power positions37.
Let’s try to imagine how settlements like Arslantepe, Hacinebi and Hassek, after the aban-
donment or destruction of the previous levels of occupation, looked like. How were they per-
ceived by the new occupants and why were these tombs built on them? Maybe they were sim-
ply considered as ruins belonging to a distant past which did not have any connection with the
present. But maybe they could have been perceived as ancient and meaningful places, mounds
of history and memories, whose past was an important heritage for the present, and because of
this the right place to bury the leader of a community or the member of a powerful group.
The complex symbolic connection linking tumuli and elite tombs reminds very closely of
the same structuring principles which will characterise the later monumental tombs in Jerablus
Tahtani and in Tell Banat38.
But these same symbolic codes are also characteristic of the Northern Caucasian kurgans,
some of which (the early-Majkop ones) date back to the end of the IV and the beginning of the
III millennium BC39. Kurgans – that is funerary tumuli – containing the remains of the ances-
tors proved to materialise kinship, strengthen the relationships between descent and territory
and shape the group identity, by helping to build collective memory40.

  Renfrew 1973, pp. 539-558; Bradley 1984, pp. burget al. 1996.
15-25; Parker Pearson 1999, pp. 158-164; Kristiansen   Rezepkin 2000, pp. 11-22; Lyonnet 2000.
1984, pp. 72-100.   Sagona 2004, pp. 498-499; Koryakova 2000;
  Porter 2002; Peltenburg et al. 1995; Pelten- Chapman 1997.
162 G. Palumbi Sc. Ant.

Going back to the early III millennium stone-lined cists in the Euphrates valley, the deci-
sion to build the tomb of a chief on an artificial mound (which was in reality an already-made
tumulus)41, that is a prominent and important place which dominated the surrounding land-
scape, could have been the result of the local adaptation of cosmological conceptions and new
ideologies of power derived from the Caucasian world. The similarities observed between the
metal artefacts composing the funerary inventories of the Caucasian kurgans and those from
the Euphrates stone-lined cists (axes, chisels, gauges and, in the case of the Arslantepe tomb,
also metal containers) strengthen these analogies.
The adoption of traits proposing an alternative social model (the Kura-Araks one) which
was founded on horizontal social relationships and focused on the land, could have been a
reaction to the Mesopotamian model focused on the city and founded on bureaucracy, admin-
istration and centralised economy. It is possible that after the collapse of the Uruk system the
old and now weak political elites were being challenged by new forms of competing leadership
identifying themselves with different symbols of power and proposing an alternative model of
social and territorial organisation.


Changes in resources exploitation, land use and settlement functions in northern Syria
and south-eastern Anatolia at the beginning of the third millennium could have led to the use
of such intramural stone-cists. Paradoxically, the act of building an elite stone-cist in an aban-
doned or a temporarily occupied mound could have been a metaphoric process of translation
of meanings which transformed the settlement in a monumental ancestral tomb42.
The newly acquired centrality of these funerary structures and of their rituals in the social
and political life of the Upper and Middle Euphrates communities could have been a new con-
text where to channel competition, affirm and legitimise new forms of power and naturalise
use and acquisition of the land.
The introduction in the Middle and Upper Euphrates of new funerary traditions (the
stone-lined cists) from the Kura-Araks world and of new power ideologies from northern
Caucasus if on the one hand witnesses the powerful impact of the Caucasian cultures over the
surrounding regions, on the other hand proves that profound changes were occurring in the
social and political organisation of the Syro-Anatolian communities. By stressing the new cen-
trality of the family and of the horizontal social relationships, these tombs foregrounded the
emergence of kin-groups which, by means of new territorial strategies and the manipulation of
a new funerary ideology, were acquiring and legitimising stronger power positions established
on land appropriation, control on flows of raw materials and maybe also on a paramount role
in the exchange and circulation of prestige goods.

41 42
  For a similar case in Sos Höyük see Sagona   Bradley 1998, p. 150.
2004, pp. 480-481.
14, 2007-2008 From collective burials to symbols of power 163


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La tradizione funeraria delle tombe a cista ha origine in Transcaucasia (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaigian)
nella seconda metà del IV millennio in un contesto socio-culturale caratterizzato da una marcata origi-
nalità (la cultura Kura-Araks) e da una organizzazione sociale fondamentalmente egualitaria e fondata
sulla centralità della struttura famigliare. All’inizio del III millennio questo costume funerario viene
adottato in luoghi geograficamente molto distanti (Alta Valle dell’Eufrate e Siria settentrionale) ed in
ambiti socio culturali diversi ed estranei da quelli di origine. È il semplice risultato dell’impatto tras-
formativo connesso all’espansione fisica e culturale delle comunità sud-caucasiche nelle regioni limitro-
fe? In questo lavoro si suggerisce che un ruolo fondamentale, in questo processo di adozione, fu giocato
dal mutato panorama politico e culturale dell’Anatolia sud-orientale dopo l’espansione Tardo-Uruk,
dalle trasformazioni strutturali delle comunità dell’Alta Valle dell’Eufrate all’inizio del III millennio ed
infine dalle esigenze di legittimare nuove forme di potere mediante la costruzione di identità nuove ed
alternative a quelle tradizionali.