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Transforming the ancestors: early evidence of fire-induced manipulation on human bones in the Near East from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B of Kharaysin (Jordan)

AuthorsSantana, Jonathan; Iriarte, Eneko ; Teira, Luis; García-Tojal, Javier; Muñiz-Álvarez, Juan Ramón; Ibáñez-Estévez, Juan José
Human taphonomy
Burial practice
Pre-Pottery Neolithic
Issue Date2020
CitationArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences (12) : Article 112 - https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01065-7 (2020)
AbstractCremation is an unusual burial practice in the Neolithic of the Near East. At Kharaysin, a Pre-Pottery Neolithic site in Jordan, we found a secondary burial with evidence of burnt human bones. This paper assesses (1) the intentionality of fire-induced alterations on human bones, (2) the pre-burning condition of the human remains, and (3) their significance within the burial customs of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic in the Near East. Burial SU-815 was a secondary multiple burial with burnt and unburnt human remains from at least three adult individuals. Directly dated at 8010 ± 30 BP (7058–6825 cal BC), it corresponds to the Late Pre-Potttery Neolithic B (LPPNB). Macroscopic changes in human remains were analysed to investigate the circumstances of burning. Some bones were selected for mineralogical and compositional analysis through X-ray diffraction (XRD) and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Colour changes, fractures, cracking, and chemical changes on bones were identified as resulting from fire-induced alterations. Our results show that the bones were intentionally burnt when they were already skeletonised or almost dry. This intentional manipulation using fire happened after other burial practices took place. After burning, the bones were collected and transported to this burial during a final episode. Fire-induced manipulation or cremation was not a significant development of the habitual burial practice, but evidence from Kharaysin shows an innovation in handling the human remains. Therefore, this case provides new insight into the complexity and variability of burial customs within the Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B in Southern Levant.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01065-7
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