Emergence of corpse cremation during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Southern Levant: A multidisciplinary study of a pyre-pit burial

Fanny Bocquentin, Marie Anton, Francesco Berna, Arlene Rosen, Hamoudi Khalaily, Harris Greenberg, Thomas C. Hart, Omri Lernau, Liora Kolska Horwitz

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Renewed excavations at the Neolithic site of Beisamoun (Upper Jordan Valley, Israel) has resulted in the discovery of the earliest occurrence of an intentional cremation in the Near East directly dated to 7031–6700 cal BC (Pre-Pottery Neolithic C, also known as Final PPNB, which spans ca. 7100–6400 cal BC). The funerary treatment involved in situ cremation within a pyre-pit of a young adult individual who previously survived from a flint projectile injury. In this study we have used a multidisciplinary approach that integrates archaeothanatology, spatial analysis, bioanthropology, zooarchaeology, soil micromorphological analysis, and phytolith identification in order to reconstruct the different stages and techniques involved in this ritual: cremation pit construction, selection of fuel, possible initial position of the corpse, potential associated items and funerary containers, fire management, post-cremation gesture and structure abandonment. The origins and development of cremation practices in the region are explored as well as their significance in terms of Northern-Southern Levantine connections during the transition between the 8th and 7th millennia BC. The bones are distributed throughout the bottom of the pit, partly superimposed one on the other to a thickness of 40 cm. However, the density of remains was not very marked except at the centre of the pit (Fig 6). If there was an apparent anatomical disorder at first glance, by looking at the details some interesting patterning could be observed. Cranial and mandibular fragments were found only in the southern half of the structure. Next to the south wall on the upper level, we found the base of the skull (mandible reversed and occipital fragments); the rest of the cranial vault and face (frontal, maxillars, parietals and temporals) were found slightly lower down at the centre of the pit. Conversely, the cervical vertebrae were dispersed out from the centre to the northern half of the pit. The thoracic column and some of the ribs were concentrated in the centre, roughly following a west-east direction. The lumbar vertebrae were found in the middle and against the south-western wall of the structure with several vertebral fragments in close proximity to the sacrum, coccyx and the left coxal. The right coxal is found diametrically opposite to this coherent group, lying almost complete not far from the north-eastern wall of the pit. Altogether, despite an absence of articulated joints and dispersion of certain elements, the bones of the axial skeleton show some anatomical coherence.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0235386
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8 August
StatePublished - Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes

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Copyright: © 2020 Bocquentin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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