Unmasked equalities: An examination of mortuary practices and social complexity in the Levantine Natufian and Pre-pottery Neolithic
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis study presents the results of an analysis of mortuary practices as reflected in 637 burials from 19 Natufian and Pre-pottery Neolithic sites in the southern Levant. The analysis focuses on selected dependent variables such as primary or secondary state, position, orientation, location, skull presence or absence, and grave goods presence or absence. It analyzes their frequency against such independent variables as age and sex of the deceased, period, and site. The analysis reveals that Natufian burial practices differed fundamentally from Prepottery Neolithic practices in that they reflect a much lower level of ritual involvement in disposing of the dead than is seen in the Pre-pottery Neolithic. The unstandardized burial practices and seemingly expedient nature of Natufian burials are found to be consistent with, but not exactly parallel to, the types of practices found in Woodburn's (1982a) "immediate return" societies and Douglas' (1970) "weak grid and group" societies. Increased standardization of burial practices in the Pre-pottery Neolithic, and greatly increased emphasis on skull removal and reburial, indicates a greater emphasis on ritual through which the body was a symbol of society. In the Middle and Late PPNB, mortuary practices emphasized an increasingly "group" oriented society with well defined social boundaries with respect to outside groups. Internal differentiation, however, was slight: some difference based on age is present but differentiation based on sex is not reflected in burial practices. Skull removal practices accelerated through the PPNA and Middle PPNB. Such practices represent ancestor cults that may have provided mechanisms of social negotiation over control of critical but restricted resources in an otherwise egalitarian society. With the advent of the PPNC, the ancestor cult symbolized by the skulls disappeared. This undoubtedly reflects the disappearance of the PPNB agricultural and herding way of life and the advent of a more pastorally based economy. In the face of new economic opportunities presented by such a shift, ancestors were less necessary in attempts to control local resources.
Degree ProgramGraduate College