UCLA Spotlight

Death Pit: Cotner Open House

  • Published Apr 30, 2007 8:00 AM

In south-central Turkey, the locals call the earthen mound Domuztepe, Turkish for pig hill. But a team of UCLA and University of Manchester archaeologists know that the former stomping grounds of wild boar had a less bucolic past — thanks to the discovery of a mass burial site they call the "death pit."

Between 1997 and 2002, the team painstakingly excavated the remains of more than 40 decapitated and dismembered people who met their end some 7,500 years ago. Although the mound is one of earliest mass burial sites ever discovered, the archaeologists still aren't sure what they have on their hands.

Who dismantled the bodies and why? And were the teeth marks on the bones actually made — as they appear to be — by humans?

"We're trying to find out whether we're looking at warfare, cannibalism or some kind of ritual we don't know about," said Elizabeth Carter, lead archaeologist on the dig and a researcher with UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. "We're just trying to piece together the evidence."

The Domuztepe riddle is among the real-life mysteries from the world of archaeology that will be on display from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 5, when the Cotsen Institute at UCLA — the nation's largest collection of working archaeologists — throws open its doors to the public.

The open house will be the largest public glimpse to date inside the world-famous institution, where 75 working archaeologists analyze and store their findings. In addition to the mysteries of the 7,500-year-old Domuztepe bones, the public can ponder the actual tools that gave the Stone Age its name, a technique of identifying pottery with only microscopic slivers of shard, and methods of using charcoal to deduce the agricultural practices of the past.

In all, 15 labs will showcase archaeological projects from sites as nearby as the Channel Islands and the Mojave Desert to those as distant as Confucius' China and Anthony and Cleopatra's Egypt.

Five renowned Cotsen archaeologists will also give brief presentations about their exciting escapades, including a Chile specialist who last summer led a rappelling team that retrieved eight mummies from cliffside burial sites exposed suddenly during freak rains.

In recognition of Cinco de Mayo, Mesoamerican craft stations will offer children the opportunity to make Mayan hieroglyphs, color Mayan calendars and construct Ojos de Dios, or eyes of God, ancient diamond-shaped symbols made by the Huichol Indians of Mexico and the Aymara Indians of Bolivia.

Also in recognition of Cinco de Mayo, the Fowler Museum at UCLA will be open and at 2 and 3:30 p.m. will lead free tours of their collection of ceramics from Mexico and South America.

The institute and its archaeology labs are housed in the basement of the Fowler Museum building on northern edge of the UCLA campus. For information, call (310) 206-8934 or visit www.ioa.ucla.edu.