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New Research Project on Household Communities of the Living and the Dead in the Neolithic Period

Excavations continue in Ba'ja in the south of present-day Jordan

№ 089/2018 from May 04, 2018

A new research project based at Freie Universität's Institute of Ancient Near Eastern Archeology is investigating Neolithic households and burial culture at the Ba'ja site in the south of present-day Jordan. In Ba'ja of that time, the dead were not buried outside residential areas, but along with grave goods under their houses or in ruins of houses. The involved scholars assume that the dead continued to play a role as members of the household and part of everyday life in a changed form.

Ba'ja, which was settled in the Neolithic period from 7500 to 7000 BC, is located in the south of today’s Jordan. Excavations have been carried out in the area since 1997. “The living and the dead formed a kind of community there,” says Dr. Hans Georg K. Gebel from the Institute of Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology of Freie Universität Berlin. “In most historical periods, the dead were buried in central places outside residential areas that were only places of remembrance. The dead of the culture of Ba'ja, however, were buried by the survivors with grave goods under the floor of their homes and in ruins.”

The researchers involved in the project believe that in this culture the social relationships continued beyond death and that the dead were a fundamental component of the worlds of values and identities of the living. Perhaps the deceased served as media of control, functioning as an omnipresent otherworldly force.

The material culture has shown that not only the dead were buried. “Even households in the form of their objects were literally ‘buried’ in the rooms of the houses or house ruins. This type of formal re-valuations of the past – while preserving the original proximity and environment – is a central theme of the project,” explains researcher Dr. Christoph Purschwitz. As part of the research project, excavations in Ba'ja will be continued through June 2018.

Dr. Hans Georg K. Gebel, Dr. Marion Benz, and Dr. Christoph Purschwitz from the Institute of Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology at Freie Universität Berlin will jointly lead the further excavations and coordinate the work of up to 20 participating experts. Prof. Dr. Dominik Bonatz, director of the institute, will accompany the project, which emerged from field work carried out by the research association “ex oriente – Produktion, Subsistenz und Umwelt im frühen Vorderasien” in Berlin, which in turn is headed by Dr. Hans Georg K. Gebel from the Institute of Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology, Freie Universität Berlin. The new project will be funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for a period of three years and by ex oriente, Berlin.

By exploring the cognitive nature of the early Neolithic villagers of Ba'ja, the researchers also hope to gain insights into present-day people. Sedentariness, the beginning of the production of food and goods, the increasing control of nature, and the development of complex ritual and symbolic worlds that began to emerge more than 9000 years ago in the Middle East, are all features of a social and economic type of human being that greatly influenced the development of today’s ways of life.

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