Analysis and Interpretation of Neolithic Near Eastern Mortuary Rituals from a Community-Based Perspective
Early farming communities located in the ancient Near Eastparticipated in unique mortuary practices throughout the Neolithic period (9300-4700 B.C.). These practices include a “skull cult,” which involved preserving and honoring human skulls apart from the rest of the skeletons. Interpretations of the meaning behind this “skull cult” have been a major focus of archaeology.In this thesis, I critique previous work interpreting the skull cult, particularly Kathleen Kenyon’s theory of a venerated male ancestor skull cult, and explore Ian Kuijt’s theory on the social role of these mortuary ritual practices, giving insight into the emergence and evolution of social complexity within these developing societies. Ethnographic accounts supporting Kuijt’s theory of community-based mortuary practices and their significance in understanding the societal structure during the Neolithic period suggest that while people of the Neolithic Near East were preserving the skeletal remains of their ancestors, it may not have been for veneration purposes, but rather a mortuary rite allowing the deceased to transition to the afterlife, all while preserving and renewing the social relationships involved in the community.