School of History, Classics and Archaeology


Bodies at the Burnt City: palaeopathological, bioarchaeological and socio-economic transformations at Shahr-e Sokhte (Iran) during the 3rd millennium BC

Researchers at the Bronze Age site in Iran.

Shahr-e Sokhte is an exceptionally extensive Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC) urban centre located in Iran. It is vast (151ha; with 20-25ha cemeteries, ~40,000 graves), with superb preservation (desiccated human soft tissue, hair, nails).

This provides a unique opportunity to study the origins and development of urbanization. The extensive remains allow unique investigations into variations in diet, nutrition at death, and population mobility.

Our pilot study has demonstrated the feasibility of hair analysis; hair from 6 individuals was analysed for ?13C and ?15N isotope composition and the following conclusion drawn:

  1. The preservation state of the hair is suitable to allow hair analysis.
  2. There is considerable range in both carbon and nitrogen isotope values that suggest different dietary regimes within the sample group and hence the greater population.
  3. The hair C/N ratios fall into the range expected for human hair and all but one sample lies within a 3.4‰ range in ?13C, and a narrower range in ?15N.

The adult male hair sample has an unusually high nitrogen value; there is little published on such values but it is likely to be associated with either a very marine rich diet, or possibly be an indication of wasting/starvation related to illness.