Bioarchaeology of the Near East, 3:1-16 (2009)

Two Sasanian ossuaries from Bushehr, Iran. Evidence for exposure of the dead

Theya Molleson

Department of Palaeontology, Natural History Museum,
London SW7 5BD, United Kingdom

Abstract: Since first discovered in the early 19th century, the ossuaries from Bushehr, Persian Gulf, have attracted attention as possible archaeological evidence for ancient Zoroastrian burial practice. This practice involved exposing cadavers to birds before the surviving remains were gathered for deposition in an ossuary. In this paper, the human remains recovered from two ossuaries at Bushehr are described. Specifically, several bones were missing, others were damaged on their surfaces, were stained, or broken, all of which can be interpreted as resulting from exposure, carrion feeding, as well as being placed in an ossuary. An overall lack of tooth marks on surviving bones and the observed differential pattern of limb and torso survival suggest that bones from the ossuaries had been exposed to bird carrion feeding.

Key words: Bushehr; Iran; secondary burials; ossuary; carrion feeding; Zoroastrian burial rite

Received 14 April 2010; accepted 4 November 2010; published online 28 November 2010.

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