Buried with turtles: the symbolic role of the Euphrates soft-shelled turtle (Rafetus euphraticus) in Mesopotamia

Rémi Berthona1a2, Yılmaz S. Erdala3, Marjan Mashkoura1 and Gülriz Kozbea4

a1 Archéozoologie, archéobotanique: sociétés, pratiques et environnements (UMR 7209), Sorbonne Universités, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, CNRS, CP56–55 rue Buffon, 75005 Paris, France (Email:

a2 Archéorient—Environnements et sociétés de l’Orient ancient (UMR 5133), CNRS, Université Lyon 2, MSH Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée—Jean Pouilloux, 7 rue Raulin, 69365 Lyon cedex 7, France

a3 Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Letters, Hacettepe University , 06800 Beytepe, Ankara, Turkey

a4 Department of Art History, Faculty of Letters and Sciences, Batman University, 72100 Batman, Turkey


Excavations at Kavuşan Höyük (south-eastern Turkey) have revealed evidence of the use of turtles, tortoises and terrapins in post-Assyrian funerary practices. Of particular significance are the remains of the Euphrates soft-shelled turtle (Rafetus euphraticus), distinguished from other species of turtle by their quantity and treatment in the burial pit under investigation here. The unique finds from Kavuşan Höyük, coupled with archaeological and textual records, underline the economic and symbolic significance of these animals for communities in prehistoric and early historical Mesopotamia.

(Received December 05 2014)

(Accepted February 26 2015)

(Revised March 08 2015)


  • Mesopotamia;
  • Kavuşan Höyük;
  • post-Assyrian;
  • Euphrates soft-shelled turtle;
  • chelonian