On the bus today I was catching up with a podcast episode from last November and heard something interesting. Apparently a Dr. Janet Monge from the Penn Museum in the US has completed a forensic study of a man and a woman from the group of retainers buried in a royal grave at Ur.
As is well known, the richest graves included groups of male and female corpses adorned with copper and gold lying neatly beside each other. The excavators guessed that the retainers had walked underground and drunk poison during the burial ceremony. It was romantic, and rather decorous. But Monge found evidence that the retainers had been struck on the head while alive, and that the corpses had been preserved with mercury, possibly by smoking them in cinnabar fumes. In her view, the retainers were killed in advance, carefully preserved, then dressed in their finery and placed in the grave. Its gorier than the traditional version, but it seems possible. Now we just have to wait for her to publish her research. Unfortunately, archaeological news is often untrustworthy :(http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0110/gaz06.htmlhttp://www.cbc.ca/quirks/archives/09-10/qq-2009-11-14.html