Astounding story of a massacre buried for millennia | Artificial intelligence

The ancient town of Hasanlu was under savage attack when a chance event meant every detail was frozen in time. Finally the can be told, and the assailants unmasked

skeletons

Stop the clocks: a fire set during the sacking of Hasanlu preserved details of the gruesome attack

Penn Museum

THE Iron Age citadel of Hasanlu was grand, with paved streets and palatial homes that rose two, sometimes three, storeys high around columned courtyards. Its people were rich, and lived off fertile lands generously irrigated by Iran’s Lake Urmia. Then they were massacred.

The town was destroyed just before 800 BC in a brutal assault. Now, finally, the remarkable story of Hasanlu is being pieced together from artefacts gathered half a century ago. These are revealing a unique snapshot of history. Here, as in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, time stopped short – only instead of capturing a natural disaster, Hasanlu captures the reality of Iron Age warfare in all its brutal detail. Yet, while everyone knows about Pompeii, few have heard of Hasanlu. That is set to change.

In 1956, a young American archaeologist called Robert Dyson travelled to Iran, seeking a site where he could study the origins of sedentary life and farming. He singled out a mound, about 500 metres in diameter and 25 metres high, that stood in a valley at the south end of Lake Urmia. Previous digs had revealed it to be entirely , the result of of dust, dirt and debris building up around a succession of settlements that had occupied the spot starting in 5000 or 6000 BC. It was known locally as Hasanlu.

Dyson began by digging trenches around the base of the mound and then, in 1958, on top of it. It wasn’t long before he and …

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