The Year 2001 Season of Excavation at Late PPNB Ba'ja

Hans Georg K. Gebel and Bo Dahl Hermansen
(Institut für Vorderasiatische Altertumskunde, Freie Universität Berlin; Carsten Niebuhr Institute, Copenhagen University)


The Year 2001 Season of Excavation at Late PPNB Ba'ja


The results of the 2001 season appear less spectacular than those of the previous season because work concentrated on the further investigation of these findings. In general, the 2001 results have enabled us to plan for an interim monograph evaluation of the site's results so far, in order to develop on that basis the future research questions for the long-term project. The next season in spring 2003 will follow some open questions for that monograph, and will open the second term of excavations at Ba'ja.

1) The supposed gate structure in B 74: The nature of this interesting structure was not entirely clarified since we did not reach its foundation in 2001. However, having traced the height for about 2m (width: c. 1.7 m), we still feel justified in interpreting it as the passage (which was blocked later) to the main part of the village, situated in a topographically most prominent situation. At an intermediate stage in its development, the width of the feature was reduced by the construction of an east-west wall that narrowed the passage to the east. Later again, the "gate" was blocked by a wall from the west and filled with stones. Then the previously mentioned E-W-wall was taken down to an approximately horizontal level, and the whole area immediately to the east of the gate was intentionally filled in a sequence of events that cannot be detailed here. As indicated by excavation in the neighboring squares B 84-85 , the "gate" remnants were finally incorporated in the later domestic architecture of the area that must have provided another access solution for the main and central parts of the village.

2) The supposed open space west of the buttressed wall in Area C (Fig. 3): Extending the excavation of Area C did not confirm the existence of an open space or plaza immediately west of the buttressed facade in C0/10/20. Rather , a series of walls seem to radiate from this "facade" in the western direction. These are further connected by dividing walls of varying quality oriented roughly north-south. This creates the impression that at least in the upper preserved stratigraphy this area became overgrown by a dense pattern of rooms and spaces rather than having functioned as a plaza. However, three phases of occupation can be identified in the western parts of Area C, and only the painstaking analysis of the architectural events will reveal whether these spatial subdivisions belonged to the original situation or were subsequently added. In situ floors of the first and second phase were exposed and the approximate level of a third phase was also identified. It appears obvious that the buttresses were continuously maintained through all the three phases, and that the building in Area C is a core from which the occupation developed structurally.

3) Ground plans of Area B-North (Fig. 4): The balk removals allowed us to understand that we are dealing with the basement parts of two or three domestic units on different building terraces, of which the original floors have not yet been reached. Numerous alterations (blocking of wall openings, rebuilt wall courses, inserted staircases, etc.) show that the spatial use of buildings was reconsidered continuously. The remains of a stairwell confirms that connections between basements and first floors could be achieved by built stairs, whereas rooms with no openings in the walls indicate that ladders through openings in the ceilings served this function in other cases.

4) Area F (Fig. 5):A considerable depth of deposits (with one wall preserved to a height of at least 3.70m) had already been found in Test Unit 5 during the previous season. In this year's excavations we opened three squares immediately south of the edge that separates the topography of Areas C and F (Gebel and Bienert 1997: Fig. 4:B). Here we found a dense pattern of architectural features, which indicates that the settlement extended considerably downslope. The main walls of the architecture of the slope run north-south along the direction of the slope, while all the system of east-west room-dividing walls between (following the contour lines) lean extremely downslope. Thus the groundplan is characterized by small rooms, indicating that, here as elsewhere on the site, we are most probably dealing with the basements of two-storied houses. No bottom floors were reached in this difficult terrain, but two and possibly three succeeding floors were reached. So far, no evidence of specific activities other than domestic / workshop has been identified here. Certainly, the northern parts of Area F belong to the domestic occupation of the site. The occupation of such an extreme slope area (35-40¡) in our view triggers arguments of spatial stress in Ba'ja.

5) Collective burial (Figs. 6-8): The final excavation of the multiple burial already encountered in 2000 in a small room lined with chamber-like walls in D11/12/21/22 was the focus of work of anthropologists headed by Prof. Dr. Michael Schultz, Göttingen University. The burial must have been originally covered by the long stone slabs found in the area, presumably resting on top of the chamber walls. The eastern chamber wall was set in front of the miraculous wall painting on the room wall (Gebel 2001a-b).

Prior to final analysis the anthropological investigation of the human bones indicates that c. three adults and nine very young infants were buried in the chamber, which occupied ca. 0,65m2. The depth of the bone layer reached c. 35cm. No pathological features were detected with the remains during excavation. The dead were obviously buried in many individual events: the depositions followed the general pattern of placing the last inhumation in the grave's center while the postcranial bones and skulls of the previous ones were pushed towards the margins. This caused a high fragmentation of the bones, and a further separation of the body parts. There is evidence for partially or fully mummified body parts in the grave (several parts were found articulated), but it is not clear from the field observations if these were brought into the grave or developed here. The grave obviously was disturbed already in early Neolithic times, possibly in search for grave goods, since parts of its floor pavement were found mixed with the bones. Possibly also grave goods were removed: it still contained plenty of scattered beads, 9 arrowheads of one type, a pressure-flaked dagger possibly deliberately broken in three parts (Fig. 8), one mother-of-pearl ring (Fig. 7B), a "mace-head" (Fig. 7C), a beautiful mother-of-pearl paillette from under a newborn's skull (Fig. 7A). Red pigment occurred throughout the grave, partially coloring bones and grave goods.











Fig. 2. Access to the site through the gorge in 2000 (left: bed stili with gravel fill) and in 2001 (gravels washed out, bottom lowered by ca. 3m). (photos by H.G.K. Gebel)





Fig. 6. Upper layer of the collective burial in Area D with wall painting (E of the arrow), as already excavated in the 2000 season (photo by H.G.K.G ebel)

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