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Beyond death - the construction of social identities at the transition from foraging to farming. In: M.Benz (ed.), The Principle of Sharing. Segregation and Construction of Social Identities at the Transition from Foraging to Farming. Studies in Early Near Eastern Production, Subsistence, and Environment 14 (2010) 240-276. Berlin, ex oriente.


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Abstract: According to one ethno-archaeological model it is a necessary condition for the adoption of regular cultivation of annuals that the generalized reciprocity and open access to resources is restricted to a circumscribed group. On the basis of the results of an analysis of secondary skull burials of the Natufian and early Neolithic groups in the Near East it is argued that corporate groups – probably age-classes – were able to manipulate this strong social norm and undergo egalitarian principles. With the breakdown of the old exchange networks new social ties had to be developed. The secondary skull burials probably served as an effective means for the creation of a collective memory, thereby legitimating new group identities and cohesion. Only during the middle PPNB, when life in villages was well established, could single individuals receive special attention and remembrance after death. In the south central Levant this new early Neolithic identity seems to focus more on members of certain groups. However, the situation in the middle and upper Euphrates and Tigris region is less clear: although the rite of secondary skull burial is practised there as well, collectively-used space seems to play a more important role for the expression of collective identities. Zusammenfassung: Entsprechend eines ethnoarchäologischen Modells ist eine notwendige Bedingung für die Durchsetzung des Anbaus einjähriger Pflanzen wie Getreide, dass die generelle Reziprozität und der offene Zugang zu Ressourcen auf eine bestimmte Gruppe eingeschränkt werden. Die Ergebnisse der Analyse der Schädelbestattungen des Natufian und frühen Neolithikum im Nahen Osten legen nahe, dass es nur Gruppen – wahrscheinlich Altersklassen – möglich war, diese strenge soziale Norm zu brechen und das Prinzip der Egalität zu unterwandern. Mit dem Zusammenbruch der alten Austauschnetzwerke wurde es jedoch notwendig, neue soziale Verbindungen zu stärken. Die sekundären Schädelbestattungen stellten sicher ein wirkungsmächtiges Mittel dar, eine kollektive Erinnerung zu schaffen und damit neue Gruppenidentitäten zu legitimieren und deren Zusammengehörigkeit zu stärken. Erst nachdem das dauerhafte Leben in Dörfern sich etabliert hatte, wird verstärkt auch einzelnen Individuen mehr Achtung und Erinnerung nach dem Tod zu teil. Während in der zentralen und südlichen Levante der Fokus dieser neuen Gruppenidentitäten stark personenbezogen ist, ist die Situation in der Region des mittleren und oberen Euphrat und Tigris weniger klar: Obwohl auch dort der Schädelkult praktiziert wurde, scheinen sich Gruppen eher über den gemeinsam genutzten Raum definiert zu haben, als über einzelne Individuen.
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M. Benz (ed.), The Principle of Sharing. Segregation and Construction of Social Identities at the
Transition from Foraging to Farming. Studies in Early Near Eastern Production,
Subsistence, and Environment 14 (2010) 249-276. Berlin, ex oriente.
Beyond death - the construction of social identities at the
transition from foraging to farming
Marion Benz
Abstract: According to one ethno-archaeological model it is a necessary condition for
the adoption of regular cultivation of annuals that the generalized reciprocity and open
access to resources is restricted to a circumscribed group. On the basis of the results
of an analysis of secondary skull burials of the Natuan and early Neolithic groups in
the Near East it is argued that corporate groups probably age-classes were able to
manipulate this strong social norm and undergo egalitarian principles.
With the breakdown of the old exchange networks new social ties had to be developed.
The secondary skull burials probably served as an effective means for the creation of a
collective memory, thereby legitimating new group identities and cohesion. Only during
the middle PPNB, when life in villages was well established, could single individuals
receive special attention and remembrance after death.
In the south central Levant this new early Neolithic identity seems to focus more on
members of certain groups. However, the situation in the middle and upper Euphrates
and Tigris region is less clear: although the rite of secondary skull burial is practised there
as well, collectively-used space seems to play a more important role for the expression
of collective identities.
Zusammenfassung: Entsprechend eines ethnoarchäologischen Modells ist eine notwendige
Bedingung für die Durchsetzung des Anbaus einjähriger Panzen wie Getreide, dass
die generelle Reziprozität und der offene Zugang zu Ressourcen auf eine bestimmte
Gruppe eingeschränkt werden. Die Ergebnisse der Analyse der Schädelbestattungen
des Natuan und frühen Neolithikum im Nahen Osten legen nahe, dass es nur Gruppen
wahrscheinlich Altersklassen möglich war, diese strenge soziale Norm zu brechen
und das Prinzip der Egalität zu unterwandern.
Mit dem Zusammenbruch der alten Austauschnetzwerke wurde es jedoch notwendig,
neue soziale Verbindungen zu stärken. Die sekundären Schädelbestattungen stellten
sicher ein wirkungsmächtiges Mittel dar, eine kollektive Erinnerung zu schaffen und
damit neue Gruppenidentitäten zu legitimieren und deren Zusammengehörigkeit zu
stärken. Erst nachdem das dauerhafte Leben in Dörfern sich etabliert hatte, wird verstärkt
auch einzelnen Individuen mehr Achtung und Erinnerung nach dem Tod zu teil.
Während in der zentralen und südlichen Levante der Fokus dieser neuen
Gruppenidentitäten stark personenbezogen ist, ist die Situation in der Region des
mittleren und oberen Euphrat und Tigris weniger klar: Obwohl auch dort der Schädelkult
praktiziert wurde, scheinen sich Gruppen eher über den gemeinsam genutzten Raum
deniert zu haben, als über einzelne Individuen.
The transition from foraging to farming not only meant alterations in the mode of
production but it required the acceptance of considerable social changes (Kuijt 1996;
1 This paper draws on results from the ongoing research project “The principle of sharing segregation
and construction of social identities at the transition from foraging to farming” commissioned by the Baden-
Württemberg Stiftung and the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg.
Construction of social identities Benz
Benz 2000; Gebel 2002). Conicts, scalar stress, occurred and had to be managed in large
permanent groups (Goring-Morris, Belfer-Cohen 2008:274). According to one ethno-
archaeological model, foragers in transition also had to introduce and accept a more
circumscribed mode of sharing in order to avoid the depletion of seed stores and to
sustain a herd of animals. It is argued that this change must have begun before the regular
cultivation of annuals could be practised (Benz 2010; cf. Byrd 1994:642).
The heuristic value of this model is that it focuses on a social factor that might have
determined the process of Neolithisation and that has not yet been considered in detail so
far. The hypothesis of a more circumscribed sharing behaviour can be tested in archaeology
on different levels because the corporate identities of social groups can be based on very
different features: they might be dened by territorial criteria, by material culture (such as
architecture, clothes, jewellery or other specic cultural items), by kin relationships, or last
but not least by a common ideology or religion (Assmann 1992:134-139).
The spatial and technological features are discussed in other papers in the present collection
(John, Ali). Elsewhere, Byrd (1994), in his analysis of the architectural development of the
early Neolithic site of Beidha, southern Jordan, has concluded that during the Pre-Pottery
Neolithic B (PPNB) more privacy developed. Astruc et al. (2003) have shown that during
the middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (MPPNB) valuable goods such as int blades were
cached in various settlements (cf. Khalaily, H. et al. 2007; Goring-Morris 2005:97). And Kuijt
(1996:10) argued for the “development of a series of complex social rules that reafrmed
the egalitarian values and ethos of general community, and simultaneously permitted the
development of hierarchically organized ritual sodalities” during the MPPNB.
In the present paper I will concentrate on questions concerning the actors: if there
were social changes it would be of crucial importance to gain some information on the
people themselves. Who was able to manipulate and change such fundamental norms
as generalized reciprocity? Which strategies did they use and who was included or
excluded? The power to control rituals is an important, if not the most important, way of
controlling social rules in traditional societies. I will, therefore, analyse ritual behaviour
with a special focus on the skull cult of early Neolithic groups in the Levant. The results of
this analysis will then be placed in a wider ritual frame and compared to other evidence
of ritual practices.
Theoretical reections
Before proceeding, it is important to stress that social and individual identities are often
based on ascribed, most often highly situational and exible, attributes. As a result,
they vary according to the perspective and the relationship of the observers and actors
(Burmeister, Müller-Scheßel 2006:17-24). The meaning of different criteria for the corporate
identity of a group is also highly subjective and exible (Brather, Wotzka 2006:142). It
therefore cannot be assumed that a ritual had the same signicance and meaning for all
parts of a society and it remains one of the most delicate tasks of archaeology to identify
the inuence of rituals and believe systems on daily life.
Contrary to the assumption of many authors, mortuary practices should not be regarded
merely as a reection of the role, rank, or status of the interred individual and the social
structure of a society, but rather as a reection of the ideals and norms of that society.
Parker Pearson (2003) clearly illustrated how the mortuary practices of high ranking
people are often imitated whereas in fact people of high status and esteem are frequently
buried without any luxury goods or ostentatious ritual. Thus “mortuary practices […]
should be viewed as constructed social drama by the living [...]” (Kuijt 1996:108).
2 One major factor in the creation of a corporate identity, however, is language, a medium that – despite its
importance – remains invisible in prehistory.
Benz Construction of social identities
Finally, one must be aware that the “prehistoric cultures” archaeologists create are
nothing more than a heuristic device. The aim of this paper is, therefore, neither to impose
any modern nation-state model on prehistory nor to detect any “national” boundaries.
Instead I will try to discern some of the criteria prehistoric people used to dene their
group identities and how these criteria changed during the transition from foraging to
farming. The actual meaning the material remains and rituals had in the construction
of collective or individual identities is highly speculative. However, by a diachronic
analysis of these remains it will be possible to show how, during Neolithisation, the
creation of social identities changed and which strategies these people in transition
used to manage these fundamental social and economic alterations. In conclusion, I
will attempt to deduce from my analysis some theses concerning the changes in social
norms at the transition from foraging to farming.
The skull burials
Secondary skull burials are one of the most impressive forms of burial rituals in the
Near East. Since their discovery, these detached skulls – plastered or plain – have
attracted the attention of many researchers (e.g. Cauvin 1972; Bienert 1991; Kuijt 1996,
2008; Bonogofsky 2006; Stordeur, Khawam 2007).
Some skulls have even been x-rayed and the modelling and painting on them thoroughly
analysed. In addition to the regional variation in the appearance of the skulls, there
are regional variations in the manufacture of the plaster on them (Fletcher et al. 2008;
Goren et al. 2001: 681, 688; Grifn et al. 1998:66). However, there is no doubt that they
represent a common ritual concept. It has been suggested that the number of skulls in
the skull groups was always a multiple of three (Kuijt 1996:135). However, it will be
shown that this was not the case.
Due to space limitations, it is not possible to discuss in detail the meaning of these
special skull treatments. Whether these skulls belonged to a cult of ancestors, as
Kathleen Kenyon suggested, or were regarded as apotropaic, with an energy and
force of their own, remains unclear at the moment (Bonogofsky 2001:144ff.; Verhoeven
2002; cf. Kenyon 1981:305; Röhrer-Ertl 1978:154). They have also been interpreted as
foundation sacrices (de Contenson 2000:56; Goring-Morris 2000:127) or, more recently,
as the heads of enemies (Testart 2008). Most of these interpretations are based on
ethnographic parallels that have been used to “prove” one interpretation or the other
(e.g. Testart 2008; Verhoeven 2002; Özbek 1988:130; Röhrer-Ertl 1978:158). In his doctoral
dissertation (1996) and several subsequent papers (2000; 2008), Kuijt has posited the
importance of the secondary burials for the cohesion of a social group.
Despite the fact that Goring-Morris pointed out 10 years ago that, “Precise documentation
of the context of burials is vital if we are to be able to at least partially decipher the
attitudes of living communities to the dead“(Goring-Morris 2000:115), the skull burials
have rarely been analysed in terms of their chronological and geographical distribution
and setting (cf. Koutsadelis 2007; Bonogofksy 2006). I will suggest that, because of the
skulls’ long time frame and wide regional distribution, and because the detachment
of skulls was practised within many groups, the sequence and characteristics of the
rites, and especially their meaning for these communities, probably varied considerably
from region to region (Goring-Morris 2000:127). Whereas there is, for example, a clear
relationship between some skull burials and other human remains (e.g. Stordeur,
Khawam 2007; Kenyon 1981:59; Ferembach, Lechevallier 1973:224), other skulls are
placed, as in Beisamoun and Jericho, in special parts of the house and sometimes
buried with extraordinary goods (Lechevallier 1978:150), while others seem to have
been discarded in trash or destruction layers – perhaps as an intentional act of damnatio
memoriae (Kuijt 2008; cf. Kenyon 1981:77).
Construction of social identities Benz
Jericho is one of the rare settlements where a diachronic analysis of the skull burials can
be conducted.3 I will describe the development of skull burials in Jericho in detail and
then discuss them in a more general comparison with other sites where detached skulls
– in groups or as single nds – were discovered. A complete list of all skull burials will
be published in the SIGN-report (Benz et al. in prep.).
In order to gain more information on the social aspects of the burial rites, I will consider
the following questions:
Are there diachronic differences in the choice of skull burials?
Whose skulls were reburied?
Were there single or collective reburials, and which skulls were reburied together?
Is there a relationship between skull burials and other burials?
In what locations were the skulls redeposited?
The skulls of Jericho
Tell es-Sultan (31°52’15.8’’N; 35°26’38.1’’E), located on the northwestern outskirts of
the modern town of Jericho, is one of the largest early Neolithic tells, offering a very
long sequence of proto- and early Neolithic layers. Many, albeit sometimes conicting,
C-dates have been published (Burleigh 1981; 1983; Gopher 1994:226-228) (Fig. 1).
However, for a long time these dates had less inuence on the interpretation of the site
of Jericho than the architectural development. For example, Röhrer-Ertl (1978) based
his chronology of the skeletal remains he analysed on Kathleen Kenyon’s architectural
phases. Unfortunately, at that time round buildings were by denition attributed to the
PPNA and square buildings to the PPNB. But new excavations, such as those at Shkârat
Msaied (Hermansen et al. 2006) and Ain Abu Nukhayla (Henry et al. 2003:6-12), have
since conrmed that in the southern Levant during the early, middle, and even late
PPNB buildings could be ovoid or round as well as square (Byrd 2005; Sayej 2004).
In order to compare the development of burial rituals in Jericho with other sites in the
Levant, it is therefore necessary to restudy the stratigraphic position of the burials. I
compared the data given by Kenyon (1981), Cornwall (1957; 1981), Kurth and Röhrer-
Ertl (1981), and Röhrer-Ertl (1978: espec. 229-249) with the stratigraphic and absolute
chronological framework. Not all individual skulls could be identied, as some of them
are listed by Kurth and Röhrer-Ertl without any archaeological information other than
their stratigraphic positions, and not mentioned at all by either Kenyon or Cornwall. The
absolute chronological position of the layers was determined by the
C-dates, except in
cases where these dates obviously contradicted the stratigraphy. The latter was decisive
where no precise
C- dates were available (Burleigh 1981; 1983; cf. Kenyon 1981).
A comparison of the stratigraphy with the
C-dates shows that most of the skull burials
date to the MPPNB and LPPNB. There are a few cases where the absolute chronology
remains debatable, for example the skull burials of E11-16, which might date to either
the early PPNB or the late PPNA, and the burials of Trench M. A correlation between
the lower layers of Trench M with other trenches is not possible and no
C-dates are
available. The attribution by Kenyon of these layers to the PPNA is accepted, but it
should be kept in mind that there may be some minor changes necessary.
A clear-
3 Although the analyses of Kurth and Röhrer-Ertl (Röhrer-Ertl 1978; Kurth, Röhrer-Ertl 1981; cf. Strouhal
1973; Bonogofsky 2006) are controversial, they permit a preliminary analysis of the Jericho skulls.
4 The absolute chronological position of the early skulls of Trench M is problematic without a careful re-
study of the original excavation documents of Kurth and Kenyon. Due to their stratigraphic position, it
seems appropriate to group the early burials of Trench M with the other skull burials before Stage VIIIB in
the trenches around the tower. The revised stratigraphic positions of the skull caches E 11-16, M 36-38, and
M 32-35 dating to the MPPNB cannot be veried and remain doubtful, especially because the buildings of
the more recent Level MI, Stage IX have been attributed to the PPNA by the same author (Kuijt 1996:152-155,
Benz Construction of social identities
cut attribution of the layers older than Stage VIIIB (Trench FI) to the late PPNA
or the EPPNB seems possible only with new
C-dates, as the available ones cover
both phases and do not match precisely with the stratigraphic sequence (Burleigh
1981:503). However, there is a destruction layer with traces of a violent re at the end
of Stage VIIIB and most of the dates from the following layers can be attributed to the
Thus the chronology of the early Pre-Pottery Neolithic skull burials of Jericho could
be divided into three phases: an early phase that correlates either with the late
, a second phase corresponding to the MPPNB and a late phase
corresponding to the LPPNB.
5 It seems that the GL-dates suggesting an occupational hiatus after Stage VIIIB are too young (Gopher
6 The existence of an early PPNB in the southern Levant is debated (Sajey 2004). As there are different items
determined as diacritical for the beginning of the PPNB, this discussion is not based on a common denition.
Is the PPNB a chronological phase, or is the naviform technology or the rectangular building form decisive?
It seems that the late PPNA is more similar to the Early PPNB than the Early PPNB to the Late PPNB.
Fig. 1: Repartition of skull burials in the Levant and the middle and upper Euphrates and Tigris Region
(map designed by Steffen Vogt, Department of Physical Geography, Freiburg).
Construction of social identities Benz
At the moment, the absolute chronological position of the Jericho skulls is of importance
only when comparing different sites and when trying to detect the beginning of particular
ritual practices. But this is not the main focus of this article, and the study of the relative
succession of the skull burials at Jericho will itself offer illuminating insights.
The early skull burials in Jericho
During the early phases (PPNA/EPPNB)7 it is striking that detached skulls are deposited
only in pairs or groups (Tab. 1). These groups show an internal homogeneity in terms of
the age of the individuals: in particular the very early groups of this phase underline this
homogeneity of age classes: the two skull groups of Trench M [M31/M32-M35; M36-M38],
probably the oldest that have been found in Jericho, consist of at least four, if not ve adult
skulls and three infans II-skulls respectively. These skulls have been deposited without
their lower jaws and they therefore can be interpreted as secondary burials.
The skull deposit of Trench D I [D 63, 64] comprises two infans II children. Unlike many
other skull burials, one of the skulls [D63] still had the rst ve, and the other [D64] the
rst seven, vertebrae. The time that passed between death and the detachment of the skull
therefore must have been very short, if indeed the removal of the skulls was not the cause
of death, and the double burial of these infant skulls may be considered a sacrice. The
precise nd-spot of this deposit is not clear.
Unfortunately, the anthropological analyses of the last group [E11-16] of the early phase are
contradictory: Kenyon reports three adults and three infans/adolescent individuals, but the
anthropologist Röhrer-Ertl identied them as one infans II/adolescent, two infans II, two
infans I and one infans I/II.8 Because he was able to determine the sex for the presumably
older children, it can be assumed that they were at least at the age of puberty. Thus it was
7 According to the 14C-dates it is not clear whether these layers date to the late PPNA or the early PPNB.
Therefore they will be analysed together.
8 Three of the skulls – those that are reported by Kenyon to be children – are damaged (Kenyon 1981:287).
ID Phase Sex Age M Stratigraphic position, C-14
of skulls
per cache
D63 EPPNB/MPPNB 99 3 1 Stage VIII A xxiii (2:484) (=post D
I, VIIIA xvia BM-252: 8750-8340
BC [Burleigh 1981:503]) no
precise location possible. 2
D64 EPPNB/MPPNB 99 3 1
99 3 0
Stage VIII, xlvb, below burnt layer:
VIII xlv-xlvi 3
M37 99 3 0
M 38 99 3 0
M31 F 5 1
Stage VIII, xlvb, Square MI,
probably below structure MO 4
M32 F 5 0
M33 99 5 0
M34 99 5 0
M35 99 5 0
99 2 0
Stage VII/VIII? xxxi/xxxii; skulls in
a 3/4 –circle, facing to the middle
(Kenyon 1981:287) 6
E15 99 2 0
E16 99 3 0
E11 F 4 0
E12 F 3 0
E13 F 3 0
Tab. 1: Skull deposits in Jericho of late PPNA and/or early PPNB-Phase, Stage VII/VIII/VIII.
Legend: Age: 2=infans I, 3=infans II, 4=adolescent, 5=young adult (20-39y), 6=mature (40-59y).
Sex:M=male, F=female, 99=indet.; M=Mandible: 1=present; 0=absent, 99=indet. (for 14C-dates see
Appendix 1).
1 Cf. footnote 9.
Benz Construction of social identities
either a group of only sub-adult individuals or of three adults and three children. These 6
skulls were grouped in a circle facing inwards and they were found in a courtyard (Kenyon
All four (or ve) reported adult skulls of this early phase were of young adults. There were
no mature or senile individuals. It is striking that ve were female. The sex of the other
individuals could not be determined.9
To sum up: During the early phases there were no single skulls deposited, only pairs or
groups of three, four (ve), or six skulls. No skulls of male, newborn, mature, or senile
individuals were found in these deposits. The fact that the skulls were exclusively of young
adults and children grouped according to age could hint that age at death played a decisive
role in the regrouping of the skulls. The group in a circle [E11-16] facing inwards may
underline the close relationship of these individuals – or at least those who reburied the
skulls seem to have wanted it to look that way (Fig. 2). These skulls were not associated
with a building but were found in a courtyard (Fig. 3). None of these skulls was decorated
in a special way: there were no signs of plastering or paint.
It seems obvious that for the deposition of these skulls there was a selection of individuals
of about the same age who were grouped together; it might even be suggested that their
sex also played a role in the selection. But because the number of individuals whose sex can
be determined is small, it is not possible to say with certainty that no detached male skulls
were reburied.10
We can conclude that, according to these observations, during the PPNA and EPPNB only
the detached skulls of children and young women were deposited, and never individually,
but in groups. The homogeneity of age, and the emphasis on grouping, are striking
9 The mandible of an adult woman was found within the group of [M32-35]; but without reanalysis it is
not clear whether it belonged to one of the skulls or to another individual (Kenyon 1981:233; Röhrer-Ertl
10 Considering the later skull burials of Jericho, it might turn out that the domination of female skulls is
an artefact of the anthropological method as some individuals that were determined by Röhrer-Ertl to be
female were identied by Bonogofsky (2006) and Strouhal (1973) as male.
Fig. 2: Jericho: group of skulls E 11-16 (Kenyon 1981:Plate 155).
Construction of social identities Benz
The MPPNB skull burials
In Stage VIIIC, which is above a massive destruction layer in Trench I and D I/II, FI,
several changes are observable in skull burial practices (Tab. 2). Fifteen of the 18 skulls
were deposited in groups and only three skulls were found separately; but the skull groups
of this phase become more heterogeneous regarding age and sex. One burial of ten skulls
[D35-44]11 includes skulls of females and males, and of children, adolescents, adults, and
mature individuals, all grouped together. Except for newborns, whose burial rites differed
from the other individuals, and very old individuals (senile), who are not reported at all for
the skull burials of Jericho, individuals of all age classes were selected for this special type
of burial.12
It should be noted that this group, like the one from [E11-16], was deposited in a courtyard
(Kenyon 1981:53), but set in rows all facing approximately the same direction (Fig. 4).
In addition to this heterogeneous group, a second group deposit, which consisted of ve
children’s skulls, was excavated in the stone foundations of an unusual basin [AT] inside a
room (Kenyon 1981:plate 231). These infant skulls were associated with a complete skeleton
of a child and all still had the rst vertebra attached (Röhrer-Ertl 1978:49ff.). This deposit is
distinguished from the others by its location, its association with signs of re and a complete
skeleton, and the presence of the rst vertebra on its skulls. The three single skulls dating
to this phase could only be partially identied anthropologically: one of the skulls was that
of a child and a second apparently that of a female adolescent. The age and sex of the third
skull could not be determined. Whereas the skull of the child was found in about the same
layer as the deposit of the ve children’s skulls (Kenyon 1981:50), the other two skulls are
stratigraphically younger than Stage VIIIC. However, all of them are older than the stages
that are dated by Keynon to her “PPNB“, the phase with rectangular houses.
11 Although it is true that nine of these skulls were separated in groups of three with a small distance
between them (Kuijt 2000:153), there was a tenth damaged skull within this deposit (Röhrer-Ertl 1978:244;
Kurth, Röhrer-Ertl 1981:483).
12 The absence of very old individuals might be an artefact of the anthropological methods of age
determination (cf. Eshed et al. 2008).
Fig. 3: Jericho: striped area = location of skulls E 11-16 (modications: MB; by Kenyon 1981:Plate 302c).
Benz Construction of social identities
To sum up, more than half of the skulls (10/18) were of children, two more were of
adolescents, and only ve were of adult and mature individuals. The adult skulls were
only deposited in groups; the two single skulls whose sex and age could be determined
were of sub-adult individuals. This preferential selection of adolescent and infant skulls
contradicts theories that the skull burials of this period could have been those of enemies
or part of an ancestor cult (Testart 2008; Bonogofsky 2003; Verhoeven 2002) – unless one is
ready to credit dynastic ideas to these early Neolithic societies. 13
13 As an anthropological analysis of the human remains of Jericho was not possible within the framework of
ID Phase Sex Age M Stratigraphic position,
Number of
skulls per
F 12 (n.R-E) MPPNB F 4 0
F X.xxi
post quem: FI IX.xx-xxia, BM 1789: 8480-
8300 BC
cf. E I,II,V Stage: X.xlii P 381: 7830-757
o.N°. MPPNB 99 9 99 Stage VIIIC; FI, xvii-xix-xx (
C: cf.F43-47) 1
o.N° MPPNB 99 99 99 Stage X, viiia, Trench I (
C = F 12) 1
F 43-F47
99 9 1
Stage VIIIC FI, xviii-xviiia
ante quem: BM 1789: 8480-8300 BC
FI IX.xx-xxia
99 9 1
99 9 1
99 9 1
99 9 1
D42 (D 200.6c)
99 2 0
Stage VIII C, D xxix-xxx (= VIII C FI) 10
D35 (D 200. 6c) 99 2 1
D38 (D 200.6c) [F] 3 0
D39 (D 200.6c) [F] 3 0
D44 (D 200.6c) F 4 0
D36 (D 200.6c) M 5 0
D41(D 200.6c) M 5 0
D40 (D 200.6c) F 5 0
D43 (D 200.6c) M 6 0
D37 (D200.6c) F 6 0
Tab. 2: Skull deposits of Jericho after the destruction layer of Trench I, F, D, VIII B, probably MPPNB.
Legend s. Tab. 1.
Fig. 4: Jericho: skulls D35-44 (by Kenyon 1981:Plate 36a).
Construction of social identities Benz
the SIGN project – and it is questionable whether the preservation of these remains is still good enough to
allow such a systematic analysis now anyway– there is only limited information available on the epigenetic
traits of the individuals of Jericho (Röhrer-Ertl 1978:244).
ID Phase Plast. Paint Sex Age M N.skulls
LPPNB 0 0 99 1 0 1
Stage X.xxxvi-xxxvii (=post quem: X.xlii
P-381: 7830-7570 BC; Burleigh 1 981:502])
E (N. non ident.) LPPNB 0 0 99 5 0 1
Stage XIII, lii, Square E I: i n wall E 169 inside
(cf. E3)
E3 LPPNB 0 0 99 9 99 1
Stage XIII, Phase liv; Squ are E I, in the
foundations of the wall 180. (post quem: Stage
XIII.i: BM-253: 8200-7550 BC).
E (N. non ident.) LPPNB 0 0 1 6 0 1
Stage XIII, lx under XIV, lxi, i n the corner, on
the floor.(post quem: Stage XIII.i:
BM-253: 8200-7550 BC).
FI, 2 LPPNB 0 0 99 5 1 1
PPNB Stage XVII A. xxxi (post quem DI,
Stage XV A xxxviiia: P-380: 7720-7570 BC)
FI, 9 LPPNB 0 0 99 99 1 1
LPPNB no further information
FI, 15 LPPNB 0 0 99 99 99 1
LPPNB no further information
O11 LPPNB 0 0 99 6 0 1
Stage IX, xxxiv-xxxv (last occupation Stage
before PN)
B2, Trench I LPPNB 0 0 99 2 1
Stage XIII xviii, fill
B3, Trench I LPPNB 0 0 99 2 1
0 0 1 3 0
Stage XII xlviia (P-382: 8280 7960 BC too old
[?]; cf. Trench E: post quem: St age X.xlii; P-
381: 7830-7570 BC; ante quem: Stage XIII.i:
BM-253: 8200-7550 BC).
E7 0 0 2 3 0
D 118 (Reg.: 2001) LPPNB 1 1 1 4 0
Stage XVI-XVII, xlii-xliii (p ost quem DI, Stage
XV A xxxviiia: P-380 7720-7 570 BC)
D 117 (Reg.: 2000) LPPNB 1 0 2 4 0
E20 LPPNB 1 1 [2] 4 0
Stage NNi
E21 LPPNB 1 1 2 4 0
N15 LPPNB 0 0 2 5 1
Stage IX, xix
N14/N13? LPPNB 0 0 99 6 0
BI (Reg.: B.4.5 (2) LPPNB 0 0 99 99 1
XVI A xxb; (post quem DI, St age XV A
xxxviiia: P-380: 7720-7570 BC)
BI (Reg.: B4.4.5 (3) LPPNB 0 0 99 99 1
F6, FI, 16/1 LPPNB 0 0 99 99 99
Stage XVII A xxxi (2:486;plat e 63a)
(post quem DI, Stage XV A xxxviiia: P-380:
7720-7570 BC)
F6, FI, 16/2 LPPNB 0 0 99 99 99
E22; E 121.32 (Reg:
3657) LPPNB 1 1 1 4 0
Square E III-IV, Stage NNi, burnt layer
E23 LPPNB 0 0 99 4 0
E24 LPPNB 0 0 99 4 0
E27 LPPNB 0 0 1 5 0
Stage NNi
E25 LPPNB 0 1 2 5 0
E26 LPPNB 0 1 2 5 0
M21 (Reg . 7.6a (1)) LPPNB 0 0 1 2 99
Stage XIII, lxxiv a
(Post quem: MI XI lv; BM 1320:7600-7525
M23 (Reg: 7.6a (3)) LPPNB 0 0 2 5 99
M22 (Reg. 7.6a (2)) LPPNB 0 0 99 99 99
O4 LPPNB 0 0 99 8 0
Stage IX, xxxii, unter Hausf ußboden (Röhrer-
Ertl 1978:Tab. 15b, 2:487) (l ast occupation
phase before PN).
O5 LPPNB 0 0 1 8 0
O6 LPPNB 0 0 99 8 0
O7 LPPNB 0 0 99 8 0
O7a LPPNB 0 0 99 8 0
D115 (Reg 533) LPPNB 1 0 1 4 99
Stage XVI (post quem DI, St age XV A xxxviiia:
P-380: 7720-7570 BC)
D 112 (Reg. 532) LPPNB 1 0 [2] 4 1
D110 LPPNB 1 0 [2] 4 99
D 111 (Reg. 534) LPPNB 1 1 2 4 99
D 113 (Reg. 529) LPPNB 1 0 2 4 99
D 114 (Reg. 530) LPPNB 1 1 [2] 4 99
D 116 (Reg. 535) LPPNB 1 0 2 4 99
Tab. 3: Skull deposits of LPPNB in Jericho. Legend s. Tab. 1; Plast./Paint.: 1=present, 0=absent
Benz Construction of social identities
The skull burials of the
During the LPPNB, the number
of detached skulls – in groups or
single – increases to 43 (Tab. 3).
For the rst time plastered skulls
appear. These are deposited
only in pairs or in groups: there
are no plastered single skulls
or plastered children’s skulls
at Jericho. At the same time
the number of skulls deposited
in one group becomes more
diversied: there are seven
pairs, three groups of three, one
group of ve, and one group of
seven skulls. In addition, eight
single (unplastered) skulls were
The plastered skulls
The plastering of some of
the skulls seems to have
been a new diacritical form
for distinguishing some
individuals after death and
some skull burials from the
others. I will discuss possible
reasons for this later. There is
a striking homogeneity among
the skull groups, especially
among the plastered skulls.
All the plastered skulls [D 110-
116], some of which even show
signs of paint, belonged to
adolescents or young adults.15
Two plastered skulls [D 117-118] found as a pair in the same building, were also of
adolescent individuals, one female and one male (Fig. 5).
The sex of the seven plastered skulls [D 110-116] is debated and it is questionable whether
the group really consists of six females16 and only one male (Röhrer-Ertl 1978; Strouhal
1973; Bonogofsky 2006). In the group of [E 22-E24] one individual [E22] was determined
to be male, but the other skulls are so fragmentary that no information about their sex
14 It should be mentioned that the distinction between the uppermost MPPNB-Layers and the LPPNB is
a difcult task, as the uppermost layers of the PPNB are not dated by 14C dates and Kenyon does not
distinguish between a middle and late PPNB. Thus the attribution can only be made according to the
stratigraphic position.
15 It should be noted that the age determinations of Röhrer-Ertl are in some cases a little bit younger than
those of other anthropologists.
16 The sex determination of [D114] is uncertain. [D110] and [D112] were determined by Strouhal to be male
(1973). The determination of sexes by Bonogofsky (2006) cannot be considered here, as she only indicates the
sum of all male skull burials, not the determination for each individual.
D 110-116
B 4.4.5 (2/3)
D 117-118
Fig. 5: Location of plastered skulls in Trench D and plain skulls in
Trench I (modications MB, by Kenyon 1981: plate 221).
Construction of social identities Benz
and age is available. The pair of skulls [E20, E21] consists of two plastered skulls of
adolescents; but the identication of their sex as female by Röhrer-Ertl is debated. 1717
In all at least 12 skulls, and possibly as many as 14 considering the fragmentation
of [E23, E24] were plastered. Although the sex determinations should be considered
with caution, and the dominance of female adolescents or young adults might be an
artefact of the anthropological determination, the exclusive selection of young adults or
adolescents for skull-plastering is striking.
The non-plastered skulls
The number of plain skulls that were found in layers of the LPPNB increases to 31(29).
There is a clear trend towards smaller groups and single skulls. Eight single skulls were
found, 14 skulls were buried in pairs, and eight in groups of three. There was only one
large group, which had ve. The proportion of female to male skulls is now fairly even.
Unfortunately, both sex and age could be determined for only one of the single skulls,
which was from a mature male (Fig. 6). In contrast to the earlier phases, four of the single
skulls were of adults or mature individuals. Only two children were represented, one
newborn and the other a child of undetermined age.18 The age of the two other single
skulls is not known. In only one case was the skull of a mature adult [N14] deposited
17 Röhrer-Ertl (1978:243) suggests [E21] may have been female, but Kurth and Röhrer-Ertl (1981:437) write
that the skull is too fragmentary for sex determination. [E20] is said to be female by Röhrer-Ertl and male by
Strouhal (1973).
18 It is unclear whether this skull of a child [8] is identical to the “child burial” which Kenyon (1981:290)
reports from this layer. If this were the case, it could be possible that only the skull was preserved after the
excavation and transported to Germany, where Röhrer-Ertl found it as an isolated skull. The number of
child skulls would then decrease even more, to just two.
Fig. 6: Jericho LPPNB: location of single male mature skull (.),Trench E [ID not identied]
(modication MB, by Kenyon 1981: Plates 171b, 308c).
Benz Construction of social identities
with another adult skull in a double burial. In contrast to the MPPNB, the groups are
now once again very homogeneous in terms of the age of the individuals; but now both
males and females are buried together [e.g. E 25-27; O 4-7a; N 14/13?-15; B 2-3; E 6-7].
There is only one mixed group [M 21-23] and two pairs [F6, BI], for neither of which are
any ages given.
There is also a strong decrease in infant skulls observable: only seven skulls are of
Diachronic trends
The diachronic development of the three phases of skull burials at Jericho will be the
basis for comparisons with skull burials at other sites:
 During the early phase there are no single skull burials; only in the MPPNB
three isolated skulls of sub-adult individuals were found. During the LPPNB19
the number of single skull burials increases considerably, as do the number
of detached skulls generally. The former now consist mostly of adult or even
mature individuals, located in special areas of the houses.
 Most of the early skull burials are deposited in groups and these groups are
characterized by a high homogeneity in age and probably sex. The probable close
relationship of one of these early skull groups is suggested by the positioning of
the skulls in a circle. During the MPPNB this strong tradition is broken by the
appearance of mixed pairs and a huge group of ten skulls. The positioning of
the skulls of this group in rows could be a spatial reection of new social ideas.
Röhrer-Ertl recognized that nine of the ten individuals had a narrow and high
palate, which could hint at a kin relationship among them (Röhrer-Ertl 1978:244).
At the same time there are group burials for which a selection according to age
is still practised, a custom which becomes enhanced during the LPPNB. It is
striking that those plastered skulls for which the age could be determined were
all of young adults or adolescents.
 Ten or eleven skulls of the two early phases are female, whereas only three
were determined to be male. During the LPPNB the proportion of male skulls
increases. Not one of the single skulls has been determined to be female, but one
was identied as mature and male. The proportion of male skulls might be even
higher if the anthropological determinations of Strouhal (1973) and Bonogofsky
(2006) are correct.
 The number of individuals per group tends to be lower in the LPPNB than in
the earlier phases (PPNA/E-MPPNB). Only plastered skulls seem to be still
deposited in larger groups. However, contra Kuijt (cf. 1996:13520, 2000:152ff.)
skulls are not invariably deposited in groups of three or multiples of three.
During the LPPNB plastered and painted skulls appear for the rst time in Jericho.
Although their sexual determination is debatable, it is striking that these are
exclusively skulls of adolescents or young adults.
The creation of a corporate identity
The following conclusions, based upon the changes in skull burial rites, might give some
indications of the changes in social identities of the early Neolithic groups in Jericho:
19 The ratio of group to single skull burials remains constant from the MPPNB to the LPPNB at 5% of all skull
burials, but two of the single skulls in the MPPNB date to the late phases of that period.
20 The number of skulls in caches Kuijt indicates must be corrected. Beside his different stratigraphic
attribution, some groups and pairs of skulls are not mentioned (e.g. O 4-O7a) and some are cited imprecisely
(e.g. D 111-116 is a group of 7 skulls with another pair of skulls some distance from this group, and D
35-D44 comprises ten and not nine skulls). Obviously the extensive although in some points debated
anthropological analysis of Röhrer-Ertl (1978) was not available for Kuijt.
Construction of social identities Benz
1) During the early phase of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, the people of Jericho segregated
the burials of young women and, initially, of children from other burials by detaching
their skulls and depositing them in separate groups. It seems that the regrouping of
these individuals played an important role even after their death and manifested the
social identities of the burying society. The canonical age selection and a possible kin
relationship during the later phases make it seem improbable that these skulls had
been found by chance during the levelling of older settlements and then reburied
without considering the composition of the group (cf. Röhrer-Ertl 1978:155).
2) During the MPPNB the skull groups become more heterogeneous, and, aside from
age-classes, kinship might have played an increasingly important role for the
composition of the skull groups. In contrast to this MPPNB modication of the old
tradition, which had been dominated by age-classes, it seems that during the LPPNB
the importance of age-classes resumed with a new emphasis on the segregation of
some individuals: with the plastering of the skulls an even stronger diacritical form
is employed. It would be very enlightening if the sex of these individuals could
be clearly determined. When comparing the burials of Jericho to other sites, it will
be shown later that another concept might be responsible for the appearance of
the plastered skulls in Jericho. At present how and exactly when this new concept
was adopted in Jericho remains unclear because the sexual determinations of the
plastered skulls are too ambiguous.
3) At the same time as the plastered skulls appeared – and this seems to be a fundamental
change – detached skulls of older individuals are reburied singly and the percentage
of male skulls increases. The position of these single skulls in walls and in special
areas inside the houses underlines the important role these skulls played for the
incorporation of the dead into the life of the living. None of these single skulls was
identied as female.21
It is striking that within the single skulls one age-class now appears that had not previously
been included: mature individuals. This observation is corroborated by the fact that the only
skull group in Jericho that was buried with grave goods consists solely of adults, of which
one was identied as male.
But the development in Jericho from a more age-class specic selection in skull burials to
a focus on old (male?) individuals can be observed only as very slight trend and it should
be emphasized that, given the small number of skulls recovered from the early phases,
statistically it is not signicant. However, comparison to other Neolithic sites with skull
burials shows that it is not purely fortuitous.
And what happened outside of Jericho?
To understand the skull burials of Jericho in a more comprehensive way, it is necessary
to compare the skulls of Jericho with contemporary, and earlier and later, skull burials
found at other sites (Fig. 7). At least 283 Natuan and Pre-Pottery Neolithic skull burials
are known (Benz et al. in prep.).
 Skull burials have been discovered at several Natuan sites, including El Wad
(Garrod, Bate 1937), Wadi Hemmeh 27 (Webb, Edwards 2002:113), Hayonim
Cave (Belfer-Cohen 1988:298), Mallaha (Perrot, Ladiray 1988:18, 43) and
Nahal Oren (Crognier, Dupouy-Madre 1974).22 Some of these are questionable
(Bocquentin 2007; 2003). In most cases they are single skulls, sometimes with
21 That these detached single skulls represent one stage in the whole secondary burial ritual is unlikely
because in most cases these skulls seem closely associated with their place of burial. Thus their intentional
reburial at a later time in a cache with other skulls is improbable.
22 We do not consider the skull fragments of the Natuan site of Azraq 18, Jordan, to be a real skull burial as
the edge of the trench cuts this burial and it is possible that the rest of the individual lay beyond the area of
excavation (Garrad 1991:241).
Benz Construction of social identities
other skeletal remains (Webb, Edwards 2002; Garrod, Bate 1937; Crognier,
Dupouy-Madre 1974:113). Both males and females are represented. There seem
to be two exceptions to the single skull burials known from Natuan contexts.
One is the deposit of Erq el Ahmar, about 10 km south of Jerusalem, where the
remains of at least four skulls and two additional detached mandibles, as well as
a female skeleton, are reported to have been buried collectively; but the reports
are not clear on the details of these skulls (Neuville 1951; Vallois 1936). The
other exception is a collective burial at Nahal Oren of two skulls (one probably
female, the other a child) with a 2-3 year old child (Crognier, Dupouy-Madre
1974; Noy 1989). According to the comparison of all burials from the Natuan to
the LPPNB the typological attribution of these two sites has to be veried (Benz
et al. in prep.).
The earliest certain multiple-skull burials were found at Netiv Hagdud, where
three skulls were excavated under the oor of a house dating to the PPNA (Belfer-
Cohen, Arensburg 1997, Bar-Yosef, Gopher 1997), and at the PPNA/EPPNB site
of Jerf el-Ahmar in the middle Euphrates valley, where skull groups of two and
three skulls were found (Stordeur et al. 2001; Stordeur 2003a).
In the middle Euphrates region and the Djezirah, early isolated skulls were
found at Qermez Dere (Watkins et al. 1991), possibly at ’Abr 3 (?) 23, Mureybet
(van Loon 1968; Cauvin 1974:49; Stordeur, Ibañez 2008:89), and at Jerf el-Ahmar
(Stordeur 2003a). They date to the nal PPNA or the EPPNB. During the PPNB
quite complex burial rituals were developed and detached skulls were deposited
in secondary, mostly collective, burial chambers or graves inside houses or
23 There is only a brief note on the human skulls of ‘Abr 3 (Astruc et al. 2003:72) and they are not mentioned
in the preliminary reports (Yartah 2004; 2005).
Fig. 7: Number of skulls per
cache in each phase (Phase:
4=LPPNB) and per region.
1= Middle Euphrates Region
and Djezirah, 2= Central
and Southern Levant, 3=
Southern Jordan, Negev.
Construction of social identities Benz
special buildings (Molleson 2000a; 2000b; Molleson et al. 1992; Özdoğan 1999).
A detailed discussion of these rites is outside the scope of this paper.24 But it
should be noted that these burials are generally in the northern part of these
buildings, although other parts of these houses, including their courtyards, are
used as well.25 At the M/LPPNB site of Halula, some kilometres upstream from
Abu Hureyra on the Euphrates, a completely different setting of the burials was
observed: Most of them (111 of 114) were located under the oors of the houses
near the entrance (Guerrero et al. 2009:382-384).26
Whereas in the southern and central Levant the number of skulls in one deposit
is highly variable, in the middle Euphrates and northeast Syria single and double
skull burials dominate and no more than three skulls have been found in any one
cache. The site of Çayönü is an exception to this rule: but, because there are not
only skulls but also long bones deposited in the northern part of Çayönü’s so-
called skull building, these secondary burials are not considered true skull burials.
A quite similar situation appears in the most southern Levant, where the rst
skull burials are documented only for the MPPNB and not more than three skulls
have been found in any one cache
 The earliest plastered and decorated skulls have been found in the MPPNB layers
of the “mega-site” of ‛Ain Ghazal in Jordan (Bocquentin et al. 1989; Rollefson
et al. 1999; Grindell 1998; Simmons 1990), and possibly also at Kfar Hahoresh
(Goring-Morris 2000; Goring-Morris, Horwitz 2007; Goring-Morris et al. 2008)27
in the Nahal Hemar cave (Bar-Yosef 2003; Bar-Yosef, Alon 1988; Arensburg,
Hershkovitz 1989, 1988; Yarkar, R., Hershkovitz, I. 1988), and at Yiftahel (Khalaily
et al. 2008).28 These are all exclusively male skulls. The tradition of plastering or
decorating the detached skulls of certain individuals seems to have been adopted
at Jericho only during a later phase: Bonogofsky (2006), in contrast to Röhrer-
Ertl (1978), identied six of the ten preserved plastered skulls of Jericho as male
and none as female. This might suggest that male-oriented plastered-skull burial
may have been adopted by the people of Jericho with some delay. However, it
might also be possible, as is observed for later plastered skulls such as those of
the LPPNB site of Ramad that a diacritical form originally developed for the
distinction of male skulls was subsequently applied to other social concepts,
focusing on female adults and/or on a more collective identity.
 As early as the MPPNB several sites broke with the tradition of group burials of
plastered skulls. For example, single male plastered skulls have been found at
‛Ain Ghazal (AG CF 3083/107, AG 83 3078 062), Kfar Hahoresh (H1, H8), and
24 The human remains of Nevalı Çori (Hauptmann 1999) and Çayönü (Özdoğan 1999) are not considered in
this article as the secondary burials in which they were found also contained postcranial bones. A detailed
analysis has to await the nal publications of both sites.
25 At Qermez Dere ve detached crania were placed in the northwestern half of the later House RAA when
it was abandoned (Watkins et al. 1991). Most of the skull deposits of Nevalı Çori were placed in room 10
of House 2, which lies in the house’s northern part. The same holds true for the “charnel rooms” in Abu
Hureyra (Moore et al. 2000) and of the “skull building” in Çayönü (Özdoğan 1999:Fig. 27-30).
26 The recently published article of Guerrero et al. (2009) could not be considered in the statistical analysis
because it does not give data on the individual burials.
27 The absolute chronological position of the site of Kfar Hahoresh and the dating of the plastered skulls of
this site to the MPPNB is debated (cf. Bonogofsky 2006:20).
28 The stratigraphic and thus the absolute chronological position of the skulls of Nahal Hemar has not been
published in detail. The 14C dates range from the MPPNB (layer 4: Σ: 8210-7780 BC) up to the LPPNB (layer
3A: Σ: 7450-7080 BC). The dates of Layer 3B are in an intermediate position between 7820 and 7570 BC (Bar-
Yosef, Alon 1988:5-6; Arensburg, Hershkovitz 1989:51-53). According to Bar-Yosef (2003) the skull deposits
were in the lower layer (MPPNB). Recently three more plastered skulls buried together in a row were found
at Yiftahel (Khalaily et al. 2008). Because they have been published only in a preliminary article, it was not
possible to include these three skulls in the statistical analysis.
Benz Construction of social identities
later also at Ramad (de Contenson 2000:43; Ferembach 1969; 1970). The changes
in the layout of the few multiple-skull deposits may also be part of this trend
away from large skull-group burials. Like the 10 skulls in Jericho [D 36-42], the
skulls of Yiftahel and ‛Ain Ghazal that are deposited in groups are placed facing
one direction: those of Yiftahel were facing the west; and at ‛Ain Ghazal the
remains of plaster of three individuals were all facing downwards [CF 3083-3283-
116A, CF 3083-3283-116B, CF 3083-3283/116C] and four other skulls [CF Skull B,
3074/040/043 (?), CF Skull A, 3074/040/043 (?), CF Skull C, 3074/040/043 (?),
CF Skull D 3074/040/043 (68)] were all placed facing southwest.
Despite a dramatic increase in single skull burials during the MPPNB, it should
be emphasized that 55 of 68 plastered skulls were buried in groups even during
that era.29
 From the MPPNB onwards the single skull deposits increase and at the same time
a popularisation of the rite of skull detachment and group burial can be observed,
a rite that now includes nearly all ages and both sexes (Fig. 8). Even children’s
skulls are now plastered, as at the LPPNB site of Ramad (de Contenson 2000:43).
It is striking that during the LPPNB skull burials sometimes were a focus for
other burials, which were clustered around them (de Contenson 2000; Stordeur,
Khawam 2007; Stordeur et al. 2006, Stordeur 2003b). The selection of a special
anthropological type, or the shaping of the skulls for a brachycranic appearance,
as suggested for Nahal Hemar by Arensburg and Hershkovitz (1989:125-129),
seems to decline: the skulls of Ramad, for example, are clearly doliocephal.30
29 The number of single decorated/plastered skulls might even be less if six of the male skulls of Nahal
Hemar were really grouped (cf. Kuijt, Goring-Morris 2002).
30 Kurth and Röhrer-Ertl do not see a special selection for brachycranic individuals in Jericho but rather a
natural mixture of different types (1981:445-447).
Number of skulls per cache: Black= single skull, grey= multiple
; P
hase: 1= Natufien, 2=PPNA,
Fig. 8: Number of skulls per cache and age (Legend cf. Fig. 7).
Construction of social identities Benz
 In Jericho there is only a vague suggestion that an increase in single skull deposits
correlates with an increase in the proportion of male skulls, but this correlation is
more emphatic elsewhere in the south central Levant.31
Although the proportion of male to female skulls is quite even, the number
of male single skulls is much higher (Fig. 9-10): whereas only 6 single skulls
(=13.6% of all 44 detached female skulls) from the Natuan up to the LPPNB
were determined to be female, and only 2 (=7.1%) of these date to the LPPNB,
over the whole area from the middle Euphrates down to southern Jordan 17
(=37%) of the 46 male skulls were found as single burials (Tab. 4-5). Furthermore,
7 (=41.2%) of the single male skulls date to the LPPNB. None of the female single
skulls was plastered or decorated (Benz et al. in prep.). In the central southern
Levant the clear distinction between single male skull burials and multiple skull
burials of female and male skulls increases during the LPPNB; but neither in the
Euphrates region nor in the most southern Levant is such a sharp differentiation
observable. In the south this is probably due to the very poor documentation; but
in the Euphrates region although single skull burials dominate no division
according to sex can be discerned.
31 Thanks to the explanations of Nigel Goring-Morris, the data for Nahal Hemar Cave have been excluded,
as it is not clear whether the detached skulls were clustered in a group or buried individually. There is one
exceptionally well-preserved skull that was denitely buried apart from the others (Bar-Yosef, Alon 1988;
Bar-Yosef 2003). This exclusion does not change the results signicantly. It would only strengthen the higher
number of collective skull caches during the MPPNB compared to the high number of detached skull burials
during the LPPNB. The percentages given here therefore differ slightly from those presented at the SIGN-
Conference in Freiburg in January 2009.
1 2 3
Fig. 9: Absolute number of female and male skulls per region (legend cf. Fig. 7).
Benz Construction of social identities
To conclude I will attempt to place the developments described above into the wider
context of the development of rituals during the early Neolithic period. During the PPNA
people for the rst time built huge monuments by communal effort – monuments such
as the tower and wall of Jericho in the southern Levant (Naveh 2003; Ronen, Adler 2001)
and the ritual sites of Göbekli Tepe (Schmidt 2006; 2007; 2008), Sefer, and Karahan Tepe
(Çelik 2000; 2006) in southeastern Anatolia. Due to their monumentality they are markers
in the landscape (John this volume; Belfer-Cohen, Goring-Morris 2002:147; Benz 2006;
Aurenche 2007).
This does not mean that such sacred/communal central places had not existed before; but
apparently it had not previously seemed necessary to put a human ngerprint on them
and thereby demonstrate human (communal?) “ownership”. By changing the natural
appearance of these sites into an environment manifestly altered by humans, such
monuments became territorial markers asserting and strengthening a corporate identity.
This collective identity might have been further strengthened by the collective labour
32 The separation of the sacred and the mundane is, of course, a modern concept and a discussion on the
domestic and/or ritual function of some buildings clearly reveals that a separation often is not possible, as
we do not know the meanings (sacred/or profane?) ascribed to certain material or architectural remains
(e.g. Rosenberg, Redding 2000; Watkins 1992:68).
Fig. 10: Absolute number of skulls per cache, period and sex (legend cf. g.7).
Construction of social identities Benz
needed for the building of the site, and by the ritual feasts observed at these sites. Bodily
and emotionally experienced events and actions are the most intensively remembered.
Concurrently, the externalisation and placement of symbols on the impressive stone pillars
of Göbekli Tepe, and on small, uniformly-sized, stone plates (Köksal-Schmidt, Schmidt
2007), added a collective repertoire of pictures to the collective identity through collectively
allocated space. This externalisation and placement of symbols and the monumentality of
the “sacred places” emphasized the supra-temporality of the collective identity, which
unied generations.
It is argued that the ritual of skull detachment and secondary deposition was a further
means of creating a collective identity (Kuijt 1996; 2000; 2008). During the Natuan period
single skulls of a variety of ages and of both sexes were deposited individually. But about
the same time, when the monumental buildings in the north were still in use, the rst skull
burials in groups appear in the southern Levant. Also about that time the tower of Jericho
was abandoned, apparently because communal identity was now expressed by the people
themselves through age-class mortuary rituals.
Of course, this emphasis on age-classes is probably a reection of the ideal conceptions of
those who collected and re-deposited the skulls and of their ideas about how communities
should be structured, not an expression of actual social conditions. However, if the
importance of age-classes was manifested in public during mortuary rituals, it can be
postulated that age-classes might have been an important aspect for at least the idea
of community.
As I have said, corporate identity is always a social construct and it is
therefore based on shared concepts, even if these do not always coincide with the actual
social situation.
Only further molecular genetic or epigenetic analyses can show whether kinship also
played a role in the selection of skulls for re-burial. Age-classes dominated the secondary
burial rites until the MPPNB; but during the MPPNB adult males seem to have gained
in importance for the corporate identity of the group, as is impressively shown by the
single and collective skull burials in Nahal Hemar Cave and at ‘Ain Ghazal. During the
LPPNB, along with the group-centred age-classes, the focus on single skull burials of old
and probably male individuals increases.
Whereas in the middle Euphrates region and the Djezirah most of the skulls were reburied
individually or in pairs, in the southern Levant the reburial in groups still continued and
was popularised alongside the single skull burials (Fig. 7).
The preceding observations suggest some hypotheses on how new social norms, especially
the reduction of a generalized reciprocity, could be enforced and which social media
people used to cope with these social changes:
The monumental buildings as well as the skull burials in groups are two sides of
the same coin: the externalisation and manifestation of a collective identity became
necessary because the old wide networks of generalized reciprocity no longer
functioned as before and a new social insurance network upon which to rely in
times of crisis had to be created and rmly established.
In the beginning, this new collective identity was based on symbolic and territorial
markers. Whereas in the north the territorial aspect remains important, in the
33 It should be mentioned that by “age-classes” I do not refer to such complex systems as the Gada-system
of the Oromo of Ethiopia (Haberland 1963), but to simple classications according to age, independent of
34 Despite some new excavations on the Upper Tigris, the so-called skull building of Çayönü in the northern
Tigris region remains exceptional; but a detailed interpretation of this site should await the nal publication
of the anthropological data. Because more skeletons without skulls than skull caches have been found, Kuijt
(1996:179-182) has suggested that more collective skull caches might be found in the south central Levant if
the excavated areas were larger. However, in light of the ndings at Nahal Hemar Cave, Erq el Ahmar, and
Kfar Hahoresh, it seems more probable for the southern Levant that special places away from living sites
were chosen for reburying the skulls.
Benz Construction of social identities
southern and central Levant another means is employed to strengthen the corporate
identity: in those areas age and probably sex classes seem to play a crucial role
for the creation of communities and are manifested through the burial rites and
the regrouping of skulls. The emphasis on age and sex might reect the loose or
ctional kinship system typical of modern hunter-gatherers. Social structures
based on kinship obviously did not play a decisive role for the regrouping of skulls
in the beginning.
The above-described distinction between the north and the south in their approaches
to the creation of a collective identity suggests that the paths of their social changes
were also different. The emphasis on single skull burials in the north, as opposed
to group skull burials in the south, is one of the most striking differences (Fig. 7).
Only after life in permanent villages had been well established did it become
possible, through the emulation of the collective identity, for the skulls of some
individuals to be distinguished in an even more sophisticated way and eventually,
concurrently with the new emphasis on a collective identity and the popularisation
of skull burials, for single individuals to be placed at the centre of veneration.
The creation of a group identity through collective remembrance of a dead person
(whether a relative or not) was a new way of stabilizing group cohesion and should
be understood as part of the new more stable life in villages and in permanent
houses. The plastering seems to be an additional diacritical medium for further
distinguishing the burials of certain individuals and groups from other skull
burials. This rite clearly indicates that the society practising it had a heterarchical
or even hierarchical structure. The individuals so honoured were in many cases
adult or even mature males (Fig. 8). The changing spatial arrangements of the skull
groups, as well as the changing of their location from courtyards to more house-
centred locations, corroborates this interpretation.
Whether such a differentiation of society was also true for the Upper Euphrates
and Tigris region remains open to debate. Though the burials of the PPNA site of
Körtik Tepe seem to reect a highly differentiated society, burial rituals in Abu
Hureyra and Çayönü seem to be more homogenous and, insofar as they do differ,
it might be due to different chronological phases. However, the state of publication
of anthropological data and of burial practices of all sites in the northern regions,
except Abu Hureyra (Moore et al. 2000; Molleson 2000a; 2000b), is very preliminary
(Özbek 1988; Szymaczak 1990; Watkins et al. 1991; Anfruns, Molist 1996; Anfruns
et al. 1996; Coqueugniot 1998; Özdoğan 1999:35-63; Matheson, Loy 2001; Molleson
2006; Özkaya, San 2007).
In terms of a theory of the reduction of generalized reciprocity, it can now be
suggested that the violation of this strong social norm was, to begin with, only
possible by a specic group of people, most probably determined by corporate
age-classes. The importance of sodalities at the transition from an egalitarian to a
heterarchical or hierarchical society had already been recognized by Kuijt (1996)
and is further developed by Rollefson in this volume.
These early Neolithic groups modied the old ritual tradition of detaching and
reburying the skulls of selected individuals, which had been practised since the
Natuan, for their own needs. A corporate group might have been able to claim a
surplus and thereby gain social, economic, ritual, and/or political power; but the
overt establishment of a hierarchy based on single individuals would probably
have caused immense social conicts. In light of the ethnographical data presented
at the conference, it remains to determine whether these groups were led by
successful hunters, by ritual leaders (cf. Guenther, Rollefson; Introduction this
volume), or by other inuential or charismatic persons.
35 The often cited example of the Pintubi Australian Aborigines in fact contradicts the idea that ritual leaders
Construction of social identities Benz
According to the archaeological data presented above, it seems probable that
during Neolithisation the concept of a corporate identity in the north was more
territorially dened while to the south it was more focussed on sodalities and later
on the veneration of certain individuals.
It thus seems probable that the accumulation of power and prestige followed
different paths in these two regions.
Although every case should be studied in its own cultural and environmental
context, it can be postulated that initially the accumulation of power was probably
much easier for corporate groups, over which only later did elder, probably
male, individuals increase their inuence, power, and prestige, weakening the
strong norm of sharing, generalized reciprocity, and equality.
Marion Benz
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Appendix 1
PPNA/PPNB C-14 Dates of Jericho: (Burleigh 1981;1983)
Laborat. BP ± Trench/Stage Mat. Range BCcal.
BM 251 9390 150 D II, VI via CH 9150-8350
P 379 9655 84
D I, VIA x-xi CH 9260-8830
BM 1323 9380 85
D I, VIA x-xi CH 8780-8540
BM 252 9320 150
D I, VIIIA xvia CH 8750-8340
BM 1793 8660 130
DI XIV.xxxvii CH 7880-7570
P 380 8610 75
DI, XV A xxxviiia 7720-7570
P 377 9582 89 E IV.viii CH 8850-8550
P 381 8658 10
E I, II, V X.xlii 7830-7570
P 382 8956 103
EI, II, V XII.xlvii 8280-7960
BM 253 8710 150
E I, II, V XIII.i 8200-7550
P 378 9775 110
FI IVA.iiib CH 9380-8920
BM 1327 9560 65 FI IVA.iiib CH 9130-8800
BM 1322 9380 85
FI IVA.iiib CH 8780-8540
BM 1787 9280 100
FI VIIIA.xv CH 8630-8340
BM 1321 9230 80
FI VIIIA.xvib CH 8550-8330
GL 43 8895 150
FI VIIIB.xviia 8250-7820
GL 39 8870 150
FI VIIIB.xviia 8000-7550
GL 40 8690 150 FI VIIIB.xviia 8200-7600
BM 1789 9200 70
FI IX.xx-xxia CH 8480-8300
GrN 942 9140 70
FI 8450-8280
GrN 963 9025 100
FI 8330-7970
GL 41 8670 150
FI 7960-7570
BM 1320 8540 65
MI XI lv 7600-7525
BM 1769 8700 110 MI XI lvia 7940-7590
BM 1770 8680 70
MI XI.lxa 7760-7590
BM 1772 8810 100
MI XIII.lxxiv-XIV.l 8190-7730
BM 1773 8730 80
MI XIV.lxxvi 7940-7600
... Several authors have attempted to reconstruct the social changes that accompanied sedentarization and the beginnings of cultivation and herding. They have argued for the emergence of newly defined socio-political entities like sodalities, age groups78, and extended families910, cf. [11]. ...
... The epigenetic traits of 21 individuals from Kfar HaHoresh have been analyzed in the framework of the SIGN Project [7, 31] (Fig 1). Including Kfar HaHoresh, data from nine sites from the Natufian to the Late PPNB were collected: Hayonim Cave, Nahal Oren and Mallaha for the Natufian, Hatula as the only PPNA site, Abu Gosh, Ain Ghazal, Abu Hureyra, Basta and Kfar HaHoresh for the PPNB. ...
... This unusual demographic profile accords well with other Social Relationships at Kfar HaHoresh lines of evidence indicating that Kfar HaHoresh may represent a regional ritual/cultic mortuary centre " [46]. However, there are several similarities with other Middle and Late PPNB sites of the Levant, with burials beneath plastered floors/surfaces, a high variability in primary and secondary burial customs and, above all, the plastered skulls, e.g. [7, 19, 26,4748495051. Despite recent discussion concerning its interpretation as a special cult center [25], the extraordinary ritual activities at Kfar HaHoresh are undeniable. ...
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One of the central questions of the transition from mobile hunter-gatherers to sedentary farming communities concerns the establishment of new social structures and group identities. Along with other important factors, such as territory, ideology or economy, biological relationships might have played a decisive role in defining social groups. We therefore systematically analyzed teeth and jaw remains from nine sites in the Near East dating from the Natufian to the Late PPNB as primary proxy data for the reconstruction of familial relationships. This paper presents the results of morphological analyses on the teeth of the individuals from Kfar HaHoresh, one of the investigated Pre-Pottery Neolithic B sites. Kfar HaHoresh is located in the Nazareth hills of Galilee (32°42'20'' N 35°16'28'' E), Israel. Different statistical methods were applied to our data of epigenetic traits with the aim of determining biological relationships within the community, whereby the data of the eight other sites were used as cross-references. Our comparison of the traits of all individuals from Kfar HaHoresh indicates a rather heterogeneous community, but clearly shows one cluster belonging to a quite homogenous group, suggesting close biological relations between females and sub-adults. Interestingly, none of the male individuals belongs to this cluster, although their number outweighs that of the female individuals. This might suggest matrilocal residence patterns. However, due to the incomplete preservation of the teeth along with several other uncertainties, our conclusion must be seen as preliminary. A cross-examination of the results on skeletons excavated after our investigation should also be taken into consideration.
Full-text available
Despite extensive research on the transition from semimobile hunters and gatherers to sedentary, food-producing villagers in Southwest Asia, associated changes in community organization remain unexplored. Undoubtedly new social and economic mechanisms were necessary to facilitate the success of these larger permanent settlements. The emergence of novel intrasite organizational patterns can be elucidated in the archaeological record through analysis of the built environment. This paper presents an interpretation of temporal transformations in community organization utilizing the results from the detailed analysis of Beidha, one of the most extensively excavated early Neolithic villages in Southwest Asia. It is proposed that the emergence of Neolithic farming villages in Southwest Asia was characterized by two parallel and interrelated organizational trends: a more restricted social network for sharing production and consumption activities, and the development of more formal and institutionalized mechanisms for integrating the community as a whole.
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The particular paleodemographic characteristics of a recently excavated Pre-Pottery Neolithic B population at Kfar HaHoresh in the lower Galilee are compared with the general population of the Southern Levant. The large skeletal sample derives from an ongoing long-term excavation project in the Middle and Late PPNB levels. The mortality curve of the Kfar HaHoresh population significantly differs from that of the general PPNB Southern Levantine population (based on five other Pre-Pottery Neolithic B sites from the South-Central Levant), the Atlit Yam coastal population, and from the PPNB population of 'Ain Ghazal. The Kfar HaHoresh mortality curve is characterized by a high mortality rate between the ages of 20 to 29 years. This unusual demographic profile accords well with other lines of evidence indicating that Kfar HaHoresh may represent a regional ritual/cultic mortuary centre. Des traits paléodémographiques particuliers observés dans la population de Kfar HaHoresh, un site PPNB de Basse-Galilée, sont comparés avec ce que L'on connaît de la population du Sud du Levant. Ce grand échantillon de squelettes provient d'une fouille conduite sur le long terme dans des niveaux PPNB moyen et récent. La courbe de mortalité de la population de Kfar HaHoresh présente des différences significatives avec celle de cinq sites PPNB du Centre et du Sud du Levant, celle de la population côtière de Atlit Yam et celle de Ain Ghazal (PPNB). À Kfar HaHoresh, la mortalité se caractérise par un taux élevé de décès entre 20 et 29 ans. Ce profil inhabituel vient confirmer d'autres observations et montre ainsi que le site de Kfar HaHoresh a pu jouer un rôle de centre régional où s'accomplissaient des pratiques mortuaires cultuelles ou rituelles.
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Field research throughout the Near East has provided a large corpus of architectural remains from the terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene periods. These differ dramatically from the architectural remains of preceding cultures and, rather than simply reflecting the growth of technological know-how, indicate profound changes in the more general needs of human groups. The advent of sedentism had major impacts concerning the internal and external mindsets of the communities involved. Moreover, examination of the archaeological record of the Levant reveals that sedentism had an immediate impact as evidenced by increased community sizes and social networks. Concomitantly it brought about more subtle, incremental changes that terminated in the ‘Neolithic Revolution,’ as reflected in the architecture of the PPNB koine. The latter can be considered as the sum of the transformation processes that occurred vis-à-vis the role of architecture in the various domains of the transforming communities – as dwelling and storage structures, public buildings for communal activities and ritual institutions, amongst others.
Abstract The aim of this research is to clarify the nature of the early Neolithic period in the Southern Levant as a key period for the beginning of agrarian societies. This goal is achieved through the analysis of lithics recovered from Zahrat adh-Dhra‘ 2 (ZAD 2). The importance of ZAD 2 is its short period of occupation, which helps in clarifying the tool typology and technology of the PPNA period without the problem of admixtures from other periods. According to my analysis, there are no major differences between the Khiamian and the Sultanian phases and thus I argue that there is no need to divide the PPNA into two phases. It is better to divide it according to inter- and intra-assemblage variability. By combining the analyses of architecture, groundstone, lithics and radiocarbon dates, one can infer that ZAD 2 provides decisive evidence for an extension of the PPNA in the Southern-Central Levant from ca. 9,600 BP to ca. 9,300 BP, and thus a later beginning for the PPNB (about 9,200 BP). In arguing this, sites from the Southern Levant are compared to their counterparts in the Central and Northern Levant and the role of diffusion or local innovation is presented. ZAD 2 is located in an arid environment though the region in antiquity probably featured a more hospitable landscape. None of the plant remains uncovered at ZAD 2 could grow in the vicinity naturally so pre-domestication cultivation probably happened on site. The lack of projectile points and the existence of sickle blades and groundstone at ZAD 2 indicate extensive food processing activities. A usewear analysis was conducted on the Hagdud truncation type which is dominant at ZAD 2. The results indicate that this diminutive tool type could have been used as a micro-scraper.
L'archéologie proche-orientale est célèbre pour les crânes sans corps retrouvés en différents sites du PPNA, PPNB ou Néolithique. Ces trouvailles ont été régulièrement interprétées comme l'indice d'un culte des ancêtres. Le présent article questionne cette interprétation en proposant au contraire d'y voir des têtes-trophées prises aux ennemis. Il prend pour point de départ l'invraisemblance de l'interprétation par J. Mellaart des fresques du « sanctuaire aux vautours » de Çatal Höyük comme représentations d'un rite funéraire: elles suggèrent beaucoup plus directement l'abandon aux vautours des corps des vaincus décapités. Les matériaux ethnographiques comparatifs sont mobilisés dans cette remise en question, et le symbolisme animal du PPNA ou PPNB réexaminé dans une perspective guerrière. Near Eastern archaeology is well known for the finds, in various Neolithic, PPNA and PPNB sites, of skulls lacking the rest of the skeletons. These discoveries are usually considered to be evidence of a cult of ancestors. This paper questions of this interpretation; on the contrary it offers an alternative considering them to be trophy heads taken from enemies. This study takes as its point of departure the improbability of the interpretation by J. Mellaart of the frescoes of the "vulture sanctuaries" at Çatal Höyük as mortuary rituals. In our opinion they more directly suggest headless corpses of vanquished enemies left to feed the vultures. Comparisons from ethnography are used to support this idea; and PPNA and PPNB animal symbolism is re-examined in a perspective of conflict.
Découvert par T. Me Clellan et M. Mottram en 1989 lors d'une campagne de prospection liée à la construction du barrage de Tichrine sur le moyen Euphrate syrien, le site de Jerf el Ahmar a été exploré de 1995 à 1999 dans le cadre d'une fouille franco-syrienne. De 1995 à 1998 tous les vestiges découverts indiquaient une occupation appartenant exclusivement à l'horizon PPNA (Mureybétien). En 1998 et 1999 l'extension de la fouille a montré l 'existence de niveaux possédant à la fois des caractères mureybétiens et des caractères propres au PPNB. Fallait-il considérer ces occupations comme illustrant une "phase de transition PPNA-PPNB " ? C'est cette question qui va être posée dans cet article. Auparavant nous rappellerons les phases successives de la Néolithisation du Proche-Orient et la place qu 'occupe Jerf el Ahmar dans ce processus. Après un résumé de la stratigraphie du site, l'analyse des architectures et du matériel des niveaux les plus récents sera présentée en essayant de distinguer les caractères anciens, prolongeant directement la tradition PPNA, des caractères nouveaux, annonçant le PPNB. L'intérêt de cette question dépasse la mise en lumière d'une phase de transition entre deux cultures successives. Elle touche deux autres thèmes, d'une portée historique plus globale. Le premier est celui de l'émergence du PPNB pour laquelle J. Cauvin proposait un modèle dès la fin des années 70. Le PPNB naît-il exclusivement sur le moyen Euphrate ou procède-t-il d'une évolution qui touche à la fois le nord de la Syrie et l'Anatolie du sud-est? Le deuxième thème est celui d'une indispensable révision des limites des aires culturelles, ces deux régions composaient sans doute, entre le 10e et le 9e millénaire av. J.-C, une seule entité.