Funerals and Feasts during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B of the near East

Article excerpt


The site of Kfar HaHoresh, located in northern Israel (Figure 1), is the first centralised mortuary-cum-cult site to be identified in the Neolithic of the Levant (Goring-Morris 2000; 2005). It has been suggested that the site functioned in a manner similar to the ancient Greek amphictyony, that is a central shrine serving neighbouring villages (Goring-Morris 2000; Belfer-Cohen & Goring-Morris 2003). The precise nature of the relationship between these sites and the mortuary centre is undoubtedly complex, since inhumations have also been recovered from the villages in question (Hershkovitz et al. 1986; Garfinkel 1987; Goring-Morris 2005). While the demographic profile of the recovered population at Kfar HaHoresh includes males and females of almost all age groups, it differs in certain significant aspects from other Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNB) populations in the Mediterranean zone of the southern Levant (Eshed 2001; Eshed et al. in press). This probably indicates that only certain members of communities were deemed to warrant burial at Kfar HaHoresh.

During the recent excavations at Kfar HaHoresh, several unusual human-faunal associations were found which provide early evidence for the celebration of funerary feasts. In the following sections we document these associations and discuss them within the wider context of the ritual world of the PPNB in the region.


The site

The site of Kfar HaHoresh, located in the uppermost reaches of a secluded wadi in the Nazareth hills of lower Galilee, nestles in a natural embayment beneath a low cliff at the base of a steep, north-facing hill (Goring-Morris 1991; 1994; 2000; 2005; Goring-Morris et al. 1994-5; 1995; 1998). The site is small and covers no more than 0.75-1.0ha. A series of [sup.14]C determinations and the finds from the complex stratigraphic sequence securely date the site to the end of the Early (EPPNB) through to the Late PPNB (LPPNB), c. 8000-6800 cal BC (Goring-Morris et al. 2001).

Within the 425[m.sup.2] excavated, four principal activity zones have been identified (Figure 2): a production area located on the eastern side of the excavation that is characterised by industrial and maintenance features such as kilns for lime plaster production and flint knapping; midden deposits rich in burnt bones and ash deposits centred on the southern and western part of the excavation; a cult area located in the western and north-west part of the excavation with remains of plastered and stone-lined hearths and what appear to be narrow and wide monoliths; and a funerary area located in the central and especially western area, which is defined by an are of lime-plastered surfaces often overlying numerous primary and/or secondary, single and multiple human interments (Goring-Morris et al. 1998). Postholes, seemingly not associated with functional architectural features, are also common, perhaps as markers.

The site assemblage contains the same repertoire of lithic and faunal types found in many other PPNB village sites in the Mediterranean zone (Goring-Morris 1994; Goring-Morris et al. 1994-5; 1995; 1998). Mountain gazelle is the most common faunal taxon followed by the Persian wild goat (Horwitz et al. 1999; Horwitz 2003). As at other contemporaneous sites (Davis 1982; Garrard et al. 1996; Horwitz et al. 1999), all other large mammals--aurochs, wild boar and deer--are represented in low frequencies. A broad spectrum of small carnivores (especially red fox), reptiles, rodents and birds as well as fish is also represented at Kfar HaHoresh (Goring-Morris et al. 1994-5; 1995).

Unlike its contemporary village sites, Kfar HaHoresh lacks obvious rectangular residential structures and is characterised by isolated L-shaped walls associated with human burials interred beneath lime-plastered surfaces. It is thought that these plastered surfaces may represent the cappings of burial pits rather than house floors, while the associated L-shaped walls may have served to demarcate burial locations or as retaining embankments to prevent slopewash. …