Crania with mutilated facial skeletons: A new ritual treatment in an early Pre-Pottery Neolithic B cranial cache at Tell Qarassa North (South Syria)
Article first published online: 11 JUL 2012
Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Volume 149, Issue 2, pages 205–216, October 2012
How to Cite
Santana, J., Velasco, J., Ibáñez, J. J. and Braemer, F. (2012), Crania with mutilated facial skeletons: A new ritual treatment in an early Pre-Pottery Neolithic B cranial cache at Tell Qarassa North (South Syria). Am. J. Phys. Anthropol., 149: 205–216. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22111
- Issue published online: 14 SEP 2012
- Article first published online: 11 JUL 2012
- Manuscript Accepted: 4 JUN 2012
- Manuscript Received: 27 DEC 2011
- Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, R+D Project. Grant Number: HAR2010-21545-C02-01
- Spanish Institute of Cultural Heritage (Ministry of Culture). French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs
- cranial caches;
- Near East
The removal of crania from burials, their ritual use and their disposal, generally in cranial caches, are the most particular characteristics of the funerary ritual in the transition to the Neolithic in the Near East. Despite the importance of this ritual, detailed studies of cranial caches are rare. This funerary ritual has traditionally been interpreted as a form of ancestor-veneration. However, this study of the cranial caches found at the site of Tell Qarassa North, South Syria, dated in the second half of the ninth millennium BC, questions this interpretation. The 12 crania, found in two groups arranged in two circles on the floor of a room, belonged to male individuals, apart from one child and one preadolescent. In 10 of the 11 cases, the facial skeletons were deliberately mutilated. In the context of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, when the symbolism of the human face played a vital role in ritual practice, this mutilation of the facial skeleton could be interpreted as an act of hostility. In the absence of indicators of social stratification or signs of violence that might indicate more coercive forms of society, the veneration of ancestors has been explained as a mechanism for social cohesion, which would have been necessary in a context of rapid growth in the population of settlements. However, data on the negative nature of some funerary rites, of punishment or indifference rather than veneration, should make us question an over-idealized view of the first Neolithic societies. Am J Phys Anthropol 149:205–216, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.