Post-mortem manipulation of the human skull in the Middle East during the Neolithic Period

Author(s): Michelle Bonogofsky

Year: 2016


The Neolithic Near Eastern inhabitants of the Levant and Anatolia removed the skulls or crania of females, males and children after decomposition of the body, ca. 8,500-5,000 B.C. They modeled facial or other features over the disembodied skulls and crania of adults and children using substances such as plaster, marl, or collagen, and then generally painted them, while others were only painted. Many of the skulls and crania, however, display no apparent post-mortem decoration. Some skulls of both types appear grouped according to genetic relatedness and/or show evidence of in-vivo cranial modification. Whether modeled, painted, or plain, the skulls and crania are typically found archaeologically either individually or grouped together without their corresponding postcranial skeletons and in diverse locations regardless of age or sex. This inclusive treatment supports an interpretation of the removal of the skulls and crania as evidence of a complex mortuary ritual that may reflect alternative identities as well as usage and function. This paper discusses the sex, age, cultural treatment and context of 88+ modeled skulls, as well as other skulls and crania, recovered from 10 sites in Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Palestine and Israel.

Cite this Record

Post-mortem manipulation of the human skull in the Middle East during the Neolithic Period. Michelle Bonogofsky. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403814)

Spatial Coverage

min long: 25.225; min lat: 15.115 ; max long: 66.709; max lat: 45.583 ;