11,500 – 8,400 Years Ago – Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (11,500 – 10,500 years ago) and B (10,500 – 8,400 years ago).
There were mortuary practice differences between communities in the Levant and Near East, although it should be noted that pottery, was not used in the Levant until 7,500 years ago. Ritual behavior during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic is quite remarkable, indicated by the presence of large human figurines at sites such as ‘Ain Ghazal, and plastered skulls at ‘Ain Ghazal, Jericho, Beisomoun, and Kfar HaHoresh. A plastered skull was made by modeling a plaster replica of skin and features onto a human skull. In some cases, cowry shells were used for eyes and sometimes they were painted using cinnabar or other iron-rich element. The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A areas included Jericho, Netiv Hagdud, Nahul Oren, Gesher, Dhar’, Jerf al Ahmar, Abu Hureyra, Gobekli Tepe, and Chogha Golan. Generally, during the PPNA, the vast majority of burials appear to have been single, primary, and articulated. However, there are indications that secondary burials may have been present at Jericho as well as at Netiv Hagdud. Graves seem to have been concentrated in the area of the tower at Jericho, which may represent the way to the afterlife. At Catal Huyuk, we see the symbolism of a tower possibly representing sending the dead to the afterlife, which is seen in murals that depict headless bodies being taken and placed on top of the tower and in which birds take pieces of the bodies away. Yet, elsewhere there is little in the way of evidence for separate cemetery areas within habitation sites or as dedicated mortuary sites. There is also little evidence for grave goods, apart from single finds reported from various sites. At Hatoula, where there are both Khiamian and Sultanian PPNA burials, only one instance of just a single skull and most of the burials are complete with, tightly flexed or contracted on the stomach or back but rarely on the side, and often with stones placed on the joints, for example, Sultanian, comparable to Natufian practices. “Pillowed” heads have been observed in five out of nine burials at Hatoula, again a feature observed first in the Natufian. Grave goods sometimes comprise of single stone beads in two cases at Hatoula on both adult males. There is also an aurochs skull associated with an old female. A very different pattern is reflected by the human remains at Netiv Hagdud, notwithstanding the great affinity of various material culture realms to those at Hatoula. Thus, at Netiv Hagdud 15 of 27 individuals have the skull missing, but usually the mandible present; four of the individuals are represented only by the skull and mandible. There are a number of instances of cached skulls, sometimes in pairs. Skull removal was applied to male and female adults and young children. Furthermore, where the position of the burial could be determined, they were concentrated on one side and for the others it was not possible to determine the orientation or they were disturbed or secondary burials. There is evidence for the use of carefully built burial pits in one structure for primary as well as secondary burials. Interestingly, the arms, legs, and torso of a young adult placed in a sitting position in one cist had been covered with lime or gypsum plaster and a similar position and treatment were afforded to a young child in an adjacent pit. At Wadi Faynan 16, the total skeletal remains reported to date appear to represent three immature individuals and three adults. Detailed examination of the report reveals that only some of them can be treated as burials, while single bones or teeth represent others. One grave is interpret as a disturbed foundation deposit and included a “mixture of partially articulated, disarticulated, and arranged bones,” mostly of an adult, but also including the fragmented skull of a seven- to eight-year- old juvenile. The skull of the adult was resting on a stone “pillow.” Another burial, undisturbed, is of an articulated and flexed adult, with its skull resting, once again, on a stone “pillow.” In some sites, burials seem to have been rare, and only sporadic remains have been described; such is the case at Abu Madi I, Bir el-Maksur, Nahal Oren, Gilgal, Iraq ed-Dubb, Dhra, and Zahrat ad-Dhra 2. Nevertheless, inasmuch as they do appear, they accord with the patterns observed in other PPNA sites throughout the southern Levant. The topography in the mountainous Zagros area of west Iran is very different from that of the Levantine corridor at the time of PPNA and each appears to have been impacted in distinct ways. Following the still poorly defined Zarzian, the next evidence consists of a series of pre-ceramic Neolithic cave and open sites, the oldest of which dates to the about 14,500 – 11,500 years ago, even though the Middle Euphrates area was occupied during this time. In contrast with the southern Levant, where there is a seamless transition from Natufian to PPNA and PPNB, a completely satisfactory transition has not been established from the Zagros areas. There may have been a hiatus in occupation, if this is the case, the origins of the earliest farming in Zagros needs to be understood in the context of direct relationships with the Levantine zone. It may be that this temporal gap could be accounted for by climatic deterioration and the need to relocate to lower zones as Zagros highest peaks are thousands of feet high thus going where conditions were not so severe may have been a necessity. Burials occur at some PPNA sites from the Zagros areas with removal of skulls from adults was common. At Nemrik 9, in the Zagros Mountains, projectile points were found embedded within human burials, perhaps indicating that the above-mentioned mixture of affinities with both the Zarzian of Iran and the PPNA of the Levant may have been a sign of less than peaceful mingling of elements and perhaps peoples. War? The Pre-Pottery Neolithic B areas included Abu Hureyra, Ain Ghazal, Catal Huyuk, Cayonu Tepesi, Jericho, Shillourokambos, and Chogha Golan. This period is rather a long duration and is subdivided into at least four subperiods, each with its long claimed to be absent, grave goods are present on occasion, whether in the form of beads, pendants, flint artifacts, animal bones, marine mollusks, or other items. There is continuity from the Natufian in the presence of human/animal associations during the PPNB; sometimes this appears to be in the form of certain specific animal elements being included within or placed adjacent to graves, at Kfar HaHoresh, Shaqaret Msiad, and Basta. In some cases skulls had been modeled in plaster, sometimes with shells replacing the eyes, represented at sites like Jericho, Ain Ghazal, Basta, Kafar Hahoresh, Beisamoun, Nahal Hamer, and Tell Ramad. This may represent an ancestor cult. Skulls are found in various contexts, which are not funerary, ceremonial, or religious such as house, floors, pits etc. In other instances, there are indications that this reflects actual feasting activities. There is material evidence for long-distance connections between the southern Levant and central Anatolia (Turkey) in the form of one of the plastered skulls from Kfar HaHoresh in Lower Galilee, the pigment on which proved to be cinnabar deriving from sources in the Taurus region of central Anatolia. Furthermore, various aspects of the mortuary practices at PPNB Shillourokambos on the island of Cyprus, also closely mirror similar practices at Kfar HaHoresh. Is this another convergence of the skull cult, the practice of smearing gypsum/lime plaster on many of the skeletons at PPNA Kortik Tepe? This same practice also occurs later, during the M/LPPNB at Tell abu Hureyra, and perhaps presages the practices at Late Neolithic Tell Sabi Abyad, all sites located in the Northern Levant. Recently it has also been documented at PPNA el Hemmeh, in the southern Levant! So, one may ask, which area has precedence?
Hodder, I. (2013). Religion at Work in a Neolithic Society: Vital Matters. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, United Kingdom. Kindle Edition.
Byrnes, A. (2005). Pre Pottery Neolithic A. Retrieved from http://neareast-prehistory.com/html/ppna.html
Byrnes, A. (2005). Pre Pottery Neolithic B and C. Retrieved from http://neareast-prehistory.com/html/ppnb___ppnc.html#Burials
Hirst, K.K. (2015). Pre-Pottery Neolithic – The processes of farming before ceramics. Retrieved from http://archaeology.about.com/od/pterms/qt/pre_pottery_neo.htm