Head Injuries in Ancient Mesopotamia: What do we Really Know?

Posted in: Ancient Near East Today, ASOR
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03003By: Arkadiusz Sołtysiak Three millennia of documented history of Sumer, Akkad, Babylonia and Assyria are dominated by the accounts of war, and violence seems to have been present in the everyday life of all Mesopotamians. What do the bodies of ancient Mesopotamians tell us about this violence? Historical texts from ancient Mesopotamia provide us with endless record of wars, massacres, rebellion, and everyday cruelty. For example, the earliest documents from Girsu (c. 2500-2350 BCE) give the impression that war between the states of Lagash and Umma was permanent. The Stele of the Vultures from the Early Dynastic III period (ca. 2600-2300 BCE) also shows grim details of scavenging of birds on heaps of dead bodies. Stele of the Vultures (Early Dynastic III) During the first and second millennia BCE Mesopotamia was occasionally unified, but it mostly consisted of separate kingdoms, sometimes fighting against each other, sometimes endangered by external forces as Gutians, Elamites, Hittites, or Arameans. The Assyrians during their period of maximum expansion (9th-7th century BCE) notoriously depicted themselves as bloody butchers who decapitated, skinned alive, and impaled those who did not obey their rule. Sennacherib’s siege of Lachish showing impaled prisoners If violence was so common in ancient Mesopotamia, as we deduce from historical sources, the expected rate of physical trauma left on skeletal materials should be high.

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