Headless but still eloquent! Acephalous skeletons as witnesses of Pre-Pottery Neolithic North-South Levant connections and disconnections

Abstract : This paper discusses the practice of skull removal in the Late Epipalaeolithic and Pre-Pottery Neolithic in the Northern and Southern Levant, a feature which may serve as a basis for comparison of funerary customs between regions. Even though the topic of skull removal has been widely debated, factual data remain incomplete and funerary treatment is complex and highly variable. We have undertaken a preliminary synthesis based on 65 sites (MNI : 3001 individuals) distributed across the Southern and Northern Levant, the Upper Tigris and Central Anatolia from the Early Natufian period (13000 cal. BC) through to the first half of the 7th millennium BC. All burial categories were taken into account but the focus of the article is on acephalous skeletons. They represent 6.1% of the corpus but interestingly this proportion changes over time and space. An increase in skull removals is noticed at the beginning of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic but a clear break between the Southern and Northern Levant took place in the MPPNB. Removal then appears to be very selective in the North while it affects more than a third of the dead in the South. In the Southern Levant, removal mostly affects only the cranium and seems to be later in time. Nevertheless, out of this standard interpretative framework, a forgotten grave in Jericho calls into question the probability of pre-burial retrieval and encouraged to be vigilant in digging and interpreting Pre-Pottery Neolithic graves.
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Fanny Bocquentin, Ergul Kodas, Anabel Ortiz. Headless but still eloquent! Acephalous skeletons as witnesses of Pre-Pottery Neolithic North-South Levant connections and disconnections. Paléorient, CNRS, 2016, 42 (2), pp.33-52. ⟨hal-02010457⟩

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