In a remote area of present-day Jordan, more than 9,000 years ago, a tribe decided to bury a recently deceased minor in style. The mortuary rite they practiced, rather than a contemporary family ceremony of discreet mourning, probably brought together all the inhabitants of the Ba’ja village, and perhaps even people from the surrounding area. A small tomb made of vertical stones was built for the minor and he was buried under others, cut and worked, in the basement of a house already built with several floors. The burial culminated with this Neolithic society depositing an elaborate body ornament of thousands of beads on the corpse, approximately eight years old and whose sex is unknown. The presence in the tomb of ocher, a reddish pigment, scattered throughout the body of the deceased, and especially deposited in a small pile next to the legs, would indicate that it is a ritual.
The complexity of the farewell, in addition to demonstrating the intention of the tribe in doing so, highlights the importance that the funeral had in the social life of these first Neolithic farmers-herdsmen. This is the conclusion reached by Hala Alarashi, from the CSIC’s Center for the Archeology of Social Dynamics, who today publishes his study in the scientific journal PLoS ONE. His international and multidisciplinary team has investigated the archaeological site of Ba’ja in Jordan and has reconstructed the necklace. “I have studied many Neolithic collections throughout the Middle East, on the Nile and in the Horn of Africa, and I had never seen this,” explains Alarashi, also linked to the Côte d’Azur University in Nice (France). For the researcher, the use of pearls and shells from the Red Sea, as well as their ornamental production with patterns worked at a very professional level, is “characteristic of this area of the eastern Mediterranean, typical of the Petra region.” “These are people who know very well what they are doing, there was a very clear conception”, the scientist details.
The discovery of the necklace in the tomb, dated between 7,400 and 6,800 before the Common Era, helps researchers to understand the importance of symbols in the transmission of status and identity within Neolithic culture. The more than 2,500 stones in the pendant, of different colors and disparate origins, indicate that its production “had another meaning beyond the personal adornment that we give it today, it was not pure decoration,” Alarashi describes.
Reconstruction of the more than 7,000-year-old Ba’ja necklace, now on display at the new Petra Museum in Jordan. HALA ALARASHI/PLOS ONE
The exotic nature of the raw materials used in making the necklace, with elements traceable to areas far away from Jordan, provides unprecedented information on how this already sedentary tribe could function. For the researcher, the fact that the necklace combines such varied material is spectacular: “Like the two fossil amber pearls that we have analyzed, a very important finding because until now we had not found it so far back in time; amber was associated with more recent cities such as Mesopotamia or Pharaonic Egypt”.
The scientist highlights the importance of childhood in the culture of this tribe to make such a complex artifact from a symbolic point of view, both economically and technically, as well as in conception and artistic design. Layers of intricacy of meticulous work revealing that the Ba’ja community was a highly developed society, with artisans, farmers, and exchange networks in order to obtain the most desired materials from other regions. Everything to make a funeral necklace and deposit it next to the corpse at the moment. From our contemporary point of view, the action could be understood as “getting rid of it instantly, according to our current standards,” Alarashi ironically smiles by videoconference. But, he clarifies, the society that buried that minor with all the honors “perhaps it did not perceive economic wealth as we feel it today.” The reconstruction that the researchers designed of the original necklace is on display at the Petra Museum in southern Jordan.
The boy’s grave in Ba’ja, Jordan, where the scattered necklace can be seen, at the start of the study and recovery work. Hala Alarashi/PLoS ONE
For this reason, the burial must have been a very special public event, the researchers clarify in their publication, which also justifies the laborious nature of the construction of the tomb. “A moment of meeting of people who share emotions and remember the memory of this individual”, reflects the archaeologist. The author is very careful when mentioning the biological characteristics of the minor buried due to the impossibility of determining her sex with precision: “We have tried it with DNA analysis, but it has not been satisfactory because the collagen has not been preserved.” In the investigation, the authors detail how the area is very arid and the meters of sediment under which the body is buried corrode the biological and bone tissues, which caused the corpse to fall apart quickly.
I have studied many Neolithic collections throughout the Near East, on the Nile and in the Horn of Africa, and I have never seen this
Hala Alarashi, CSIC, University of the Côte d’Ivoire
The emeritus professor of the University of Cantabria, Manuel González, celebrates the finding: “That a minor is buried with honors, already details that 9,000 years ago the local tribe had some kind of social stratification, where the importance of the child, his prestige It did not depend on their actions or their achievements”. The prehistory expert, who has not participated in this research, highlights how “the personal value of the individual was in his belonging to a group within that society, that is the most interesting thing.” For González, who has worked with other sites in the Jordanian area, this burial reinforced the group’s social cohesion, which is why the funeral act is “very important”, as much as it is today. And he develops: “The relationships of the world of the living intersect with that of their ancestors and ancestors, as is the case today in many communities, the heroes of nationalisms or some original battle to which they appeal are acts of cohesion between us, but to be able to do it we go to the past to strengthen the bond ”.
The researcher believes that the complex elaboration of the pendant banishes the myth of the first sedentary societies as isolated and basic, when the “Fertile Crescent” (historical region that includes territories of the Mediterranean Levant and Mesopotamia) has always been the key to transit between different seas and roads. of communication, which reflect societies immersed in a broader network of exchange of goods”. It was there that, for González, the Neolithic revolution represented a paradigm shift in the social structure: “We do not realize that for two million years we were hunter-gatherers, essentially pre-tribal. Only in the last 10,000 years, like the society at hand, we began with agriculture and livestock; in essence, to be something else”.
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