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EXCAVATIONS IN OPERATION H


From the mid-third millennium BC onwards (Early Bronze Age IV), the northern part of the acropolis was occupied by a residential quarter. Only fragmentary walls of dwellings and domestic installations, all heavily damaged by the mighty Royal Palace foundation system, were found.

In the following Middle Bronze Age, between 1900 and 1800/1700 BC, in this region of the site several adult burials were dug. The bodies were laid in pits with their funerary goods – generally pottery vessels and a few metal objects such as bronze pins – and meat offerings (mainly sheep/goat, cow and fresh-water molluscs).

Besides adult inhumations, the graves of newborns (between one and six months) buried in jars were uncovered. Jar burials had already been found in the 1920’s by the French archaeologist Robert Du Mesnil du Buisson. These newborn graves, however, were erroneously interpreted as ritual foundation burials associated with the construction of the Royal Palace. Furthermore, along the escarpment overlooking the northern lower city, three shaft graves had already been spotted. The burial typology with central chamber and two or more lateral chambers and the variety of funerary gifts recovered, mainly pottery vessels, pins and bronze weapons, suggest that we are dealing with family graves belonging to the Qatnite elite.

This evidence indicates that at the beginning of the second millennium BC in the northern part of the acropolis there was a large cemetery containing monumental shaft graves of members of the urban elite of Qatna as well as of individuals of lower social rank.

At the end of the Middle Bronze Age II or the beginning of the Late Bronze Age I (1700-1600 BC), in the northern part of the acropolis plateau the monumental Royal Palace was built. Its impressive foundation system, which, in some parts was up to 10 m thick and between 5 and 7 m deep, extensively destroyed the underlying earlier cemetery.

The northeastern sector of the vast palace of the Qatna kings, explored by the Italian Component of the Joint Project, was probably devoted to living quarters and the storage of food, goods and objects of different types. To the East of the monumental throne room, which measured 40 x 20 m, a large service wing was located consisting of more than 30 rooms, probably mainly storage rooms.

In the vicinity of the north-eastern corner of the throne room, the first evidence of the existence of an upper storey in the Royal Palace was uncovered. This had previously been assumed on the basis of the massive thickness of the throne’s room huge foundation system. It is a rectangular room (AF), which, by means of four flights of stairs built around a central mud-brick pillar on a stone foundation, would have allowed the king direct access from the quarters located on the first storey of the palace to the throne room. The location of the stairwell next to the north-eastern corner of the throne room allows us to hypothesize that the royal throne may have been situated against its northern wall, close to the entrance of the underground corridor leading to the Royal Graves.

After the abandonment of the palace due to a fierce fire which partly destroyed it around the mid-14th century BC, this area was not settled again until the Iron Age, when, during the 9th and 8th centuries BC, a circular-shaped productive and crafts quarter was erected above its ruins. In its southern part, the artisans’ quarter consisted of a series of small-sized buildings specialised in the processing of the agricultural produce, its transformation into food and the storage of cereals and grapes in large circular silos. Immediately to the north, a large multi-roomed building devoted to the cleaning and carding of the wool and to the weaving and dyeing of textiles was uncovered. In the building, bone tools used in the cleaning and weaving of fabrics, hundreds of vertical clay loom-weights and basins for the dyeing of textiles, also associated with lumps of white chalky material and red ochre, probably used for colouring cloth, were found.

 


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