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Skulls from royal cemetery in Iraq show signs of extreme violence

A new examination of skulls belonging to ritually-killed palace attendants in the royal cemetery at Ur show evidence that a sharp instrument was driven into their heads. It was previously thought that they were poisoned.

There were two round holes in the soldier’s cranium and one in the woman’s, each about an inch in diameter. But the most convincing evidence, Dr. Monge said in an interview, were cracks radiating from the holes. Only if the holes were made in a living person would they have produced such a pattern of fractures along stress lines. The more brittle bones of a person long dead would shatter like glass, she explained.

Dr. Monge surmised that the holes were made by a sharp instrument and that death “by blunt-force trauma was almost immediate.”

Ritual killing associated with a royal death was practiced by other ancient cultures, archaeologists say, and raises a question: Why would anyone, knowing their probable fate, choose a life as a court attendant?

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