Umm el-Marra

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Umm el-Marra
Arabic: أم المرى
Umm el-Marra is located in Syria
Umm el-Marra
Shown within Syria
RegionAleppo Governorate
Coordinates36°08′02″N 37°41′38″E / 36.133791°N 37.693819°E / 36.133791; 37.693819Coordinates: 36°08′02″N 37°41′38″E / 36.133791°N 37.693819°E / 36.133791; 37.693819

Umm el-Marra, Arabic: أم المرى‎, east of modern Aleppo in the Jabbul Plain of northern Syria, was one of the ancient Near East's oldest cities, located on a crossroads of two trade routes northwest of Ebla, in a landscape that was much more fertile than it is today. Possibly this is the city of Tuba mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions listing cities that were defeated or destroyed in the Pharaoh Thutmose III's north Syrian campaign. The city of Tuba is also mentioned in epigraphic remains from Ebla, Mari, and Alalakh.


Umm el-Marra probably had three to five thousand inhabitants between 2800 BCE and about 2100/2000 BCE, when Tuba and other cities in the Jabbul Plain experienced a mysterious collapse of central authority that lasted about 200 years. Partial answers to the question, why these early centers were so brittle, may lie in the effects of sustained drought on overstressed primitive agriculture. Dr Glenn Schwartz of Johns Hopkins, who has been doing field archaeology at Umm el-Marra, suggested in 1994 that "they placed extensive demands on their environments, continually intensifying their agriculture to feed more people. The added stress from a few dry years may have been the straw that broke the camel's back." Simple daily life went on in Tuba, for the site was never completely abandoned, but at the renaissance of the city in 1800 BCE, Amoritic names were now in control. Tuba went on to enjoy a second period of prosperity and power, as a "subsidiary capital" of the still shadowy kingdom of Yamkhad. The site was destroyed in the 14th century BC and completely abandoned by 1200 BC. After a long period of abandonment, the site was re-occupied in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.


The site covers around 25 hectares. It was surrounded with a city wall with 3 gates and a defensive ditch. Excavation of Umm el-Marra began in the late 1970s and early 1980s with soundings by a Belgian team led by Roland Tefnin.[1][2][3][4] Since 1995, a joint archaeological team from the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Amsterdam have been working at Umm el-Marra.[5][6][7][8][9]

A rare intact, unlooted tomb, ca. 2300 BCE, uncovered by Dr. Schwartz's team in 2000 at the site, made science press headlines, for it contained five richly-adorned adults and three babies, some of whom were ornamented head-to-toe in gold and silver.[10][11]

It may be the oldest intact possibly royal tomb yet to be found in Syria. Dr. Schwartz noted of peculiar aspects in the burial that they 'may hint at ritual characteristics, rather than a tomb simply reserved for royalty or elite individuals.' The interment, which was above ground in ancient times, included three layers of skeletons in wooden coffins lined with textiles. The top layer includes traces of two coffins, each containing a young woman in her twenties and a baby. The women were the most richly ornamented of all the occupants of the tomb, with jewelry of silver, gold and lapis lazuli. Also of interest on this level was an accompanying lump of iron, possibly from a meteorite. Geochemical analysis of the iron, based on the ratio of iron to nickel and cobalt, confirms that the iron was meteoritic in origin.[12] One of the babies appeared to be wearing a bronze torque, or collar.

In the layer below were coffins of two adult males and the remains of a baby at some distance from both men, close to the entrance of the tomb. This differs from the placement of the babies in the upper layer, where they were placed next to the women's bodies. Crowning the older man was a silver diadem decorated with a disk bearing a rosette motif, while the man opposite had a bronze dagger. The third and lowest layer held an adult male with a silver cup and silver pins.

All the individuals were accompanied by scores of ceramic vessels, some of which contained animal bones that may have been part of funerary animal offerings. Outside the tomb to the south, against the tomb wall, was a jar containing the remains of a baby, a spouted jar, and two skulls, horselike but apparently belonging neither to horses or donkeys.

The ceramics in the tomb date to around 2300 B.C., the latter part of Egypt's pyramid age.

Modern village[edit]

As of 2004, Umm el-Marra has 1,878 population.[13]


  1. ^ Roland Tefnin, Exploration archeologique au nord du lac de Djabboul (Syrie): Une campagne de sondages sur le site d'Oumm el-Marra, 1978 Annuaire de lInstitut de Philologie et dHistoire Orientales et Slaves, vol. 23, pp. 71-94, 1980
  2. ^ Roland Tefnin, The Belgian archaeological mission in the East: Syria: Tell Abu Dann | Umm el Marra, Newsletter Archéologie Orientale Valbonne, vol. 2, pp. 8-11, 1980
  3. ^ Roland Tefnin, Exploration archéologique du tell Oumm el-Marra (Syrie du Nord): Campagne 1982, Syria, T. 60, Fasc. 3/4, pp. 276-278, 1983
  4. ^ Roland Tefnin, Tall Umm al-Marra, Archiv für Orientforschung, vol. 28, pp. 235-239, 1982
  5. ^ Hans H. Curvers, Glenn M. Schwartz and Sally Dunham, Umm el-Marra, a Bronze Age Urban Center in the Jabbul Plain, Western Syria American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 101, no. 2, pp. 201-239, 1997
  6. ^ Glenn M. Schwartz et al., Excavation and Survey in the Jabbul Plain, Western Syria: The Umm el-Marra Project 1996-1997, American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 104, no. 3, pp. 419-462, 2000
  7. ^ Glenn M. Schwartz et al., A Third-Millennium B.C. Elite Mortuary Complex at Umm el-Marra, Syria : 2002 and 2004 Excavations, American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 110, pp. 603-41, 2006
  8. ^ Batey, Ernest K., Tell Umm el-Marra (Syria), Seasons 2000-2006, Bioarchaeology of the Near East, vol. 5, pp. 1-10, 2010
  9. ^ Schwartz, G., H. Curvers, S. Dunham, and J. Weber, From Urban Origins to Imperial Integration: Umm el-Marra 2006, 2008, American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 116/1, pp. 157-93, 2012
  10. ^ Glenn M. Schwartz et al., A Third-Millennium B.C. Elite Tomb and Other New Evidence from Tell Umm el-Marra Syria, American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 107, no. 3, pp. 325-361, 2003
  11. ^ Glenn M. Schwartz, Hidden Tombs of Ancient Syria, Natural History, vol. 116, iss. 4, pp. 42-49, 2007
  12. ^ Jambon, Albert (2017). "Bronze Age iron: Meteoritic or not? A chemical strategy". Journal of Archaeological Science. Elsevier BV. 88: 47–53. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2017.09.008. ISSN 0305-4403.
  13. ^ مكتب الأمم المتحدة لتنسيق الشؤون الإنسانية: التجمعات السكانيّة السوريّة، التعداد السكاني العام 2004

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