Image: Glenn Schwartz

Archaeologists working in Syria have uncovered a perfectly preserved tomb from one of the oldest urban civilizations known. Excavated this summer at what is believed to be the site of Tuba, an ancient Syrian city, this 4,300-year-old tomb should shed light on the little-known culture of these early city-dwellers.

A research team from Johns Hopkins University discovered the tomb, which housed three levels of skeletons and a wealth of grave goods. The top layer bore traces of two coffins, each holding a young woman and a baby. In the second layer they found coffins of two adult males and the remains of an infant; the third layer contained an adult male. The accompanying riches suggest that this may have been a royal burial--perhaps the tomb of queens or princesses, considering that the women were the most lavishly adorned of the group, wearing gold, silver and lapis lazuli jewelry. The exact significance of these aspects, however, remains unclear.

New insights should emerge when the team returns to excavate further. Already they have determined that the tomb is part of a larger complex--perhaps a palace or an ancient cemetery. "By studying Syria, we can learn more about the different ways urban societies developed, why they developed when and how they did, and how they differed from each other," team leader Glenn Schwartz remarked. "It's an important addition to our understanding of why cities, writing, states and social classes first developed."