Ba‘ja 2005: A Two-Storied Building and Collective Burials.
Results of the 6th Season of Excavation

Hans Georg K. Gebel, Free University of Berlin
Bo Dahl Hermansen, Carsten Niebuhr Institute, Copenhagen University

Moritz Kinzel, Technical University of Berlin


Ba‘ja 2005: A Two-Storied Building and Collective Burials. Results of the 6th Season of Excavation
A Two-Storied Building in Area B-North

Collective Burials in C10

(with information provided by J. Gresky, A. Kozak, and N. Roumelis, Zentrum Anatomie of Göttingen University)


Fig. 5 Ba‘ja 2005, Sq. C10: collective burial Loc. 152: (top) excavation Stage G, (bottom) excavation Stage E. (drawing and photo: J. Gresky et al./C. Purschwitz, Ba‘ja N.P.)


The two collective burials in Area C were already encountered in the 2003 season in the lowermost stratigraphy of two neighboring rooms between the buttresses of the major terrace wall in Area C (Gebel and Hermansen 2001: fig. 3; 2004: fig. 2); they were completely excavated, and all of their material was screened, by the participating anthropologists (graphic documentation: C. Purschwitz).
The rooms in which the two collective burials made up the lower stratigraphy were connected by a raised wall opening, appearing more as a passage than a “window”. On or over its threshold an anthropomorphic figurine of the es-Sifiya type (Mahasneh and Bienert 1999) was found.

Both collective burials – like the one excavated in Area D (Gebel and Hermansen 2001: 17f, figs. 6-7) – most probably represent a real mortality profile of the social groups (extended families) inhabiting the houses at a certain period: The frequencies of infants in the collective burials of Ba‘ja may indicate more the characteristic infant mortality for the LPPNB in southern Jordan than the data from sites like Basta (Berner and Schultz 2004: fig. 5) with their individual burials. Here again it has to be emphasized that the collective (family?) burials in the small rooms of the Ba‘ja houses are unique: Squeezed into small burial pits of not more than 0.65 m2, they contain sequences of burials that were disturbed by the deposition of later corpses or corpse parts. Articulated parts do exist mostly for the later inhumations, and the use of red (liquid?) pigment is attested for the burial rituals. So far none of the normal individual intra- and extra-mural LPPNB burials were found in Ba‘ja.

In Area C, Sq. C10, Burial Loc.152 was excavated in Stages A-H. This collective burial (Fig. 5) is located at the bottom of a small room between the buttresses of the major NNW-SSE terrace wall (Gebel et al. 1997: fig. 6) in C10-11. The burial was deepened into the virgin soil (playa-like sediments of the al-Mehmad Basin), and the burial pit has an extension of ca. 80 x 70 cm. The pit was dug through an earlier plaster floor founded directly on the virgin soil. At least on the northern side, the plaster floor extends below the room’s wall, meaning that the wall is founded on the plaster floor (Fig. 7 bottom).

The burial contained three to four adults, among which is one juvenile (18-20 years, male), and three or four infants, among which is a possible newborn. No animal bones were found. The juvenile appeared to be articulated and complete except for the cranium, and the other (male?) adult was articulated for the spine and legs. One adult also had articulated legs including the feet we. The child remains and other parts of the adults were mixed throughout the burial pit. The depth of the bone deposits is approx. 30-40 cm, and they rested nest-like in the pit. The bone preservation was bad, but increasingly better in the lower parts of the deposits; the bone concentration increased towards the pit’s bottom.

Compared with the collective burial in Area D, the variety of grave goods was more limited: a few isolated beads and arrowheads, as well as one flint dagger (Stage B, Fig. 6), and one bone hair slide inside a child’s skull were found together with red pigments: many of the human bones, especially in the upper layers of the deposits showed a red pigmentation, and these pigments also occurred as smaller and larger lumps (up to 10 mm) in the deposits. Charcoal fragments as well as yellowish pigments were attested, too, while for the lowermost part of the burial a strange green/olive colored soil can be recorded. In 2003, the fragment of a stone plate or bowl was found on top of the burial; its depression still contained red pigment from the last use for the burial. The complete flint dagger (Fig. 6) found in the burial represents one of the rare pieces known from the LPPNB. Another complete one (Gebel and Hermansen 2001: fig. 8) – intentionally broken into 3 pieces – had been found in the previously excavated collective burial in Area D. This pressure-flaked artifact type deserves a thorough comparative study of its meaning in terms of contextual evidence and its geographic and chronological distribution. Adjacent to the north of Loc. 152 in C10, another multiple burial (Loc. 170) was excavated in four Stages (A, B, D, C/D, and E) (Fig. 7). The bone preservation was extremely crumbly; many stones (up to fist-size) in the grave and the hard soil into which the bones were “baked” made it difficult to excavate the deposits. The human remains rested together with animal bones above a typical and well-preserved LPPNB plaster bed having no final fine plaster finishing coat (Loc. 170F). It appeared that the lower burials were in close contact or located atop the aforementioned plaster bed, while the animal bone concentrations were in contact with the other human bone layers. The animal bones were concentrated within a circular stone alignment set into the SW corner of the room. In the upper grave stratigraphy mixed animal/ human remains prevailed, while in the lower stratigraphy the human remains were dominant. The contextual relation between the animal and human remains is unclear, and they might not be ritually associated. In the eastern part of the room ashy layers of some 10 cm existed, which were not present in the middle part of the room. The burial appears to be older than the neighboring buttress (Loc. 64), since parts of it go underneath this eastern buttress. The most probable stratigraphy in which the collective burial rests is as follows.


  • foundation of a floor, possibly on earlier cultural sediments or on the virgin soil (unexcavated).
  • building of the first terrace Wall 3 (in C11, cf. Gebel et al. 1997: fig. 6) and its continuation Loc. 16 towards NNW (partly resting on top of the floor?)
  • building of the reinforcement Wall 32 in front of the earliest terrace Wall 3/16 (partly resting on top of the floor?)
  • a series of inhumations in the collective burial Loc. 170 in front of the reinforcement Wall 32
  • building of buttress Loc. 64, partly founded on the burial Loc. 170. (The parts of the collective burial underneath Buttress 64 appear undisturbed).
  • (multiple?) disturbance events (deposition of animal remains and ashy layers, Layers A-B) affected those parts of the collective burial that were not located under Buttress 64. The ashy remains covered all of the room.

Fig. 6 Ba‘ja, 2005: flint dagger found in a collective burial (Area C). (photo: H.G.K. Gebel, Ba‘ja N.P.)


Fig. 7 Ba‘ja 2005, Sq. C10: collective burial Loc. 170: (top)
excavation Stage A, (bottom) excavation Stage D.
(drawing and photo: J. Gresky et al./C. Purschwitz,
Ba‘ja N.P.)

Fig. 8 Ba‘ja 2005, Sq. C10: arrowhead types of the
collective burial Loc. 170 (drawings: M. Bshesh/H.G.K Gebel)

However, there is a small likelihood that the collective burial rests against the buttress, which has a “reduced” ground plan at this spot. To the extent the locus could be excavated, the chest area of one individual appears resting beneath the buttress where it could not be reached by excavation.
In the NE part of the collective burial, many non-articulated human remains were embedded in a yellowish-brown sediment; only one upper and one lower arm were found in anatomical order. Among the bones, one skull was placed directly in the NE corner and looking towards the east; the related thorax – most probably articulated – rests underneath Buttress 64. (The cervical vertebra and a right clavicle could be seen, indicating that the corpse was placed on its back). The chin must have rested on the chest. The other non-articulated post-cranial may represent two children (6-14 years), one woman, and three men. The only grave goods, 12 arrowheads (Fig. 8), were concentrated in one part of the collective burial, and three were placed along a femur. The general arrangement of the human remains created the impression that they were moved from the southern part to the northern part of the burial space. All grave disturbances happened in the LPPNB, or during occupation respectively. The burial sediment itself was free of ash and contained almost no charcoal; one piece of red pigment was found.

The animal bones – also preserved in a crumbly condition – in the SW corner of the room may represent kitchen waste, and they seem to have been intentionally separated from the collective burial by a single-row “wallet” preserved in two courses. In the upper part of this bone layer, long bones – probably goat – prevail. A few human remains (ribs) were found among the animal bones, which become more frequent towards the base of the deposit where the sediment is ashier.

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