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The Analysis of Skeletal Materials from Hasanlu and Tepe Hissar, Iran

Curatorial Section

Near East

Research Discipline

Physical Anthropology


2000 - 2012

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Hasanlu and Tepe Hissar, both archaeological sites located in the modern country of Iran, have yielded the remains of hundreds of skeletal persons. Many students and researchers have worked on these skeletal collections yielding many types of reports and publications.

Location Information

Hasanlu (Excavated by Robert Dyson 1957-1977) (on the southern edge of Lake Urmia in the Solduz Valley) and Tepe Hissar (excavated by Erich Schmidt 1931-1932; Dyson 1976) (near the modern city of Damghan) Northern Iran.

Time Period Studied

Primarily Early Bronze Age and Iron Age (skeletal studies)

  • Janet Monge, University of Pennsylvania
  • Page Selinsky, University of Pennsylvania
  • And many student colleagues, both undergraduate and graduate students.
Project Overview

The skeletal collections from these 2 archaeological sites are extensive with approximately 300 skeletal individuals represented from each of the sites. In addition, and as importantly, these skeletons are consistently well preserved and include bones of the hands and feet, the small tongue bone (hyoid), ribs, etc, oftentimes intact calcified cartilage surrounding structures in the throat. This state of preservation makes these collections even that much more valuable for the study of skeletal biology and for the construction of hypotheses in bioarchaeology.

Page Selinsky (Consulting Scholar, Physical Anthropology Section, Penn Museum) completed her dissertation on the paleodemography of the Hasanlu skeletal people. She was able to demonstrate clear demographic differences between the skeletons located on what is called the High Mound (Citadel) at Hasanlu (the area which appears to document archaeologically the sacking of the town by an invading army) and the skeletons from an adjacent cemetery. Age and sex distributions were distinct as were the patterns reflecting the health status (various disease and age-specific degenerative agents effecting the skeleton in the course of a person’s lifespan) of the individuals from these 2 distinct areas of the site. Janet Monge and Colleen McCarthy were able to document clear trauma differences between the skeletons of males and females from the site of Hasanlu. What they were able to show conclusively is that females show many more small healed face fractures than do the males from the same site. In conjunction with this, males show more evidence of perimortem (trauma produced around the time of the death of the individual and may even be associated with the death of the individual) damage and these are more likely distributed on the flat bones of the skull vault. It seems as if we have the earliest documented case of female (wife) abuse in the history of humans.

People Associations

Research Access to the Collections

The Penn Museum welcomes and encourages researchers to make use of its collections, including objects from all over the world, as well as extensive photographic, film, and document archives.

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