August 17, 2012

Smashed faces of Neolithic Syrian skulls

Don't ask me how can archaeologists work in Syria with all the ongoing war. I can only presume that it is just publication of last years' research.

Whatever the case, it has been known these days that a number of skulls in burials from the Southern Syrian Neolithic site of Tell Qarassa, contextualized in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), show the strange feature of having their faced smashed, probably upon reburial of the skulls separated from the bodies, years after the first burial.

Of the 12 skulls, all belonging to young males, one was smashed to pieces, one (of a child) was intact and the other 10 had their faces smashed through.

The exact meaning of this post-mortem performance is unknown but researchers speculate that it may be related to fear of the ghosts of the dead ones: some kind of exorcism.

J. Santana et al., Crania with mutilated facial skeletons: A new ritual treatment in an early Pre-Pottery Neolithic B cranial cache at Tell Qarassa North (South Syria). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2012. Pay per view ··> LINK [doi:10.1002/ajpa.22111]

Source and more details at New Scientist and Pileta.


  1. Humiliation of the living by desecrating something sacred to them, perhaps traitors or members of an old deposed regime or blasphemers, might be an alternative to the ghost busting theory.

  2. I've never bought the idea that early Neolithic people were extended networks of peaceable communities. Mass violence has always been a part of human nature and there has always been competition for resources.


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