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Human Statue from Ain Ghazal

Human Statue from Ain Ghazal

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The settlement at 'Ain Ghazal ("Spring of the Gazelle") first appeared in the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (MPPNB) and is split into two phases. Phase I starts circa 10,300 Before Present (BP) and ends c. 9,950 BP, while phase II ends c. 9,550 BP.

The 9th millennium MPPNB period in the Levant represented a major transformation in prehistoric lifeways from small bands of mobile hunter–gatherers to large settled farming and herding villages in the Mediterranean zone, the process having been initiated some 2–3 millennia earlier.

In its prime era circa 9000 BP, the site extended over 10–15 hectares (25–37 ac) and was inhabited by ca. 3000 people (four to five times the population of contemporary Jericho). After 6500 BC, however, the population dropped sharply to about one sixth within only a few generations, probably due to environmental degradation, the 8.2 kilo-year event (Köhler-Rollefson 1992).

It is situated in a relatively rich environmental setting immediately adjacent to the Zarqa River (Wadi Zarqa), the longest drainage system in highland Jordan. It is located at an elevation of about 720m within the ecotone between the oak-park woodland to the west and the open steppe-desert to the east.

`Ain Ghazal started as a typical aceramic, Neolithic village of modest size. It was set on terraced ground in a valley-side, and was built with rectangular mud-brick houses that accommodated a square main room and a smaller anteroom. Walls were plastered with mud on the outside, and with lime plaster inside that was renewed every few years.

Evidence recovered from the excavations suggests that much of the surrounding countryside was forested and offered the inhabitants a wide variety of economic resources. Arable land is plentiful within the site's immediate environs. These variables are atypical of many major Neolithic sites in the Near East, several of which are located in marginal environments. Yet despite its apparent richness, the area of 'Ain Ghazal is climatically and environmentally sensitive because of its proximity throughout the Holocene to the fluctuating steppe-forest border.

In 'Ain Ghazal, the early Pottery Neolithic period starts c. 6,400 BC, and continues to 5,000 BC. [1]

As an early farming community, the `Ain Ghazal people cultivated cereals (barley and ancient species of wheat), legumes (peas, beans and lentils) and chickpeas in fields above the village, and herded domesticated goats. [2] In addition they hunted wild animals – deer, gazelle, equids, pigs and smaller mammals such as fox or hare.

The estimated population of the MPPNB site from ‘Ain Ghazal is of 259-1349 individuals with an area of 3.01-4.7 ha. [ citation needed ] It is argued that at its founding at the commencement of the MPPNB ‘Ain Ghazal was likely about 2 ha in size and grew to 5 ha by the end of the MPPNB. At this point in time their estimated population was 600-750 people or 125-150 people per hectare. [ citation needed ]

The diet of the occupants of PPNB 'Ain Ghazal was remarkably varied. Domesticated plants included wheat and barley species, but legumes (primarily lentils and peas) appear to have been preferred cultigens. A wide suite of wild plants also were consumed. The determination of domesticated animals, sensu stricto, is a topic of much debate. At PPNB 'Ain Ghazal goats were a major species, and they were used in a domestic sense, although they may not have been morphologically domestic. Many of the phalanges recovered exhibit pathologies that are suggestive of tethering. An impressive range of wild animal species also were consumed at the site. Over 50 taxa have been identified, including gazelle, Bos, Sus sp., Lepus, and Vulpes. [3]

‘Ain Ghazal was in an area that was suitable for agriculture and then grew as a result of the same dynamic. Archaeologists think that throughout the mid east much of the land was exhausted after some 700 years of planting and so became unsuitable for agriculture. The people from those small villages abandoned their unproductive fields and migrated, with their domestic animals, to places with better ecological conditions, like ‘Ain Ghazal that could support larger populations. As opposed to other sites as new people migrated to ‘Ain Ghazal, probably with few possessions and possibly starving, class distinctions began to develop. The influx of new people placed stresses on the social fabric – new diseases, more people to feed from what was planted and more animals that needed grazing.

There are evidences of mining activities as part of a production sequence conducted by craftspersons at the site of ‘Ain Ghazal, these potential part-time specialists in some way controlled access to such raw materials.

Y-DNA haplogroup E1b1b1b2 has been found in 75% of the 'Ain Ghazal population, along with 60% of PPNB populations (and is present in all three stages of PPNB) and in most Natufians.

T1a (T-M70) is found among the later Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (MPPNB) inhabitants from 'Ain Ghazal, but was not found among the early and middle MPPNB populations. .

It is thought, therefore, that the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B population is mostly composed of two different populations: members of early Natufian civilisation and a population resulting from immigration from the north, i.e. north-eastern Anatolia.

Statues Edit

In the earlier levels at ‘Ain Ghazal there are small ceramic figures that seem to have been used as personal or familial ritual figures. There are figurines of both animals and people. The animal figures are of horned animals and the front part of the animal is the most clearly modeled. They all give the impression of dynamic force. Some of the animal figures have been stabbed in their vital parts these figures have then been buried in the houses. Other figurines were burned and then discarded with the rest of the fire. They built ritual buildings and used large figurines or statues. The actual building of them is also a way for an elite group to demonstrate and underline its authority over those who owe the community or the elite labor as service and to bond laborers together as part of a new community. In addition to the monumental statues, small clay and stone tokens, some incised with geometric or naturalistic shapes, were found at ‘Ain Ghazal. [4] [5]

The 195 figurines (40 human and 155 animal) recovered were from MPPNB contexts 81% of the figurines have been found to belong to the MPPNB while only 19% belonging to the LPPNB and PPNC. The vast majority of figurines are of cattle, a species that makes up only 8% of the overall number of identified specimens (NISP) count. The importance of hunted cattle to the domestic ritual sphere of ‘Ain Ghazal is telling. It was seemingly of importance for individual households to have members who participated both the hunting of cattle – likely a group activity – and the subsequent feasting on the remains.

`Ain Ghazal is renowned for a set of anthropomorphic statues found buried in pits in the vicinity of some special buildings that may have had ritual functions. These statues are half-size human figures modeled in white plaster around a core of bundled twigs. The figures have painted clothes, hair, and in some cases, ornamental tattoos or body paint. The eyes are created using cowrie shells with a bitumen pupil and dioptase highlighting. [6] In all, 32 of those plaster figures were found in two caches, [6] 15 of them full figures, 15 busts, and 2 fragmentary heads. Three of the busts were two-headed. [6]

Burial practices Edit

Considerable evidence for mortuary practices during the PPNB period have been described in recent years. Post-mortem skull removal, commonly restricted to the cranium, but on occasion including the mandible, and apparently following preliminary primary interments of the complete corpse. Such treatment has commonly been interpreted as representing rituals connected with veneration of the dead or some form of "ancestor worship". [7]

There is evidence of class in the way the dead are treated. Some people are buried in the floors of their houses as they would be at other Neolithic sites. After the flesh had wasted away some of the skulls were disinterred and decorated. This was either a form of respect or so that they could impart their power to the house and the people in it. However, unlike other Neolithic sites, some people were thrown on trash heaps and their bodies remain intact. Scholars have estimated that a third of adult burials were found in trash pits with their heads intact. They may have seen the newcomers as a lower class.

`Ain Ghazal people buried some of their dead beneath the floors of their houses, others outside in the surrounding terrain. Of those buried inside, often the head was later retrieved and the skull buried in a separate shallow pit beneath the house floor. Also, many human remains have been found in what appear to be garbage pits where domestic waste was disposed, indicating that not every deceased was ceremoniously put to rest. Why only a small, selected portion of the inhabitants were properly buried and the majority simply disposed of remains unresolved. Burials seem to have taken place approximately every 15–20 years, indicating a rate of one burial per generation, though gender and age were not constant in this practice.

The site is located at the boundary between Amman's Tariq and Basman districts, next to, and named for, the Ayn Ghazal Interchange connecting Al-Shahid Street and Army Street (Ayn Ghazal is the name of a minor village just north of the road, now within Tariq district).

The site was discovered in 1974 by developers who were building Army St, the road connecting Amman and Zarqa. [6] Excavation began in 1982, however by this time, around 600 meters (1,970 ft) of road ran through the site. Despite the damage urban expansion brought, what remained of `Ain Ghazal provided a wealth of information and continued to do so until 1989. One of the more notable archaeological finds during these first excavations came to light in 1983. While examining a cross section of earth in a path carved out by a bulldozer, archaeologists came across the edge of a large pit 2.5 meters (8 ft) under the surface containing plaster statues.

Another set of excavations, under the direction of Gary O. Rollefson and Zeidan Kafafi took place in the early 1990s.

The site was included in the 2004 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund to call attention to the threat of encroaching urban development.

The Evolution Of The Statuary

This section focuses on the developments that took place in the statuary over two or three centuries of their usage, ca. 6700-6500 bc. I point out the traits that distinguish the earlier figures from the later ones.

First, the number of statues seems to fluctuate over time. The earlier cache had a record twenty-five pieces, among them thirteen full figures and twelve one-headed busts. Cache 2 yielded only seven statues, including two full figures, three two-headed busts, and two as yet unidentified pieces. It should be kept in mind, however, that the later cache was severely damaged by bulldozers and might originally have held more pieces.

The two caches vary also in the types of statues they held. The introduction of the two-headed busts constitutes the most significant innovation of Cache 2 (see Grissom, chapter 7.1).

The size of the statuary increased from 6700 to 6500 bc. The largest full figures of Cache 1 measure about 84 cm, compared to 1 m for those of Cache 2. The size discrepancy between the two caches’ sets of busts is even greater. The early one-headed specimens are about 35 cm high, whereas the later two-headed ones reach 88 cm. In fact, the smallest example of Cache 2 is 11 cm taller than the largest of Cache 1. The larger size of the Cache 2 figures is probably responsible for their more complex armature described by Grissom.

There is a notable trend towards standardization. The figures of Cache 1 have individual facial features and assume varied positions. For example, one figure has straight arms (Pl. 7.3.1c), whereas others bend theirs in different ways (Pls. 7.3.1a and b). In contrast, the figures of Cache 2 have almost identical faces and posture.

The torso became more schematic. In Cache 1, the shoulders are carefully modeled, sloping gently. The waist is clearly marked and the pelvis and buttocks are sensitively rendered, including in one figure a light bulge suggesting fat around the thighs (Pl. 7.3.1a). One statue of Cache 1 has breasts placed low in the center of the chest (Pl. 7.3.1a), and a second displays udder-like features (Pl. 7.3.1b). But in Cache 2 the torso is reduced to a rectangle, the figures do not have waists, and the breasts are never displayed (see Grissom, chapter 7.1).

The arms, small and withered in the statues of Cache 1 fully disappear in those of Cache 2. One of the earlier figures has straight stick-like arms, with no indication of elbows or wrists, and fully disproportionate to the torso (Pl. 7.3.1c). A second, which will serve as an important clue for the function of the figures, bends her arms to hold her breasts (Pl. 7.3.1a). Her skimpy upper limbs are devoid of forearms and end in fan-shaped hands. The same gesture is repeated by another figure, although more schematically (Pl. 7.3.1b). Here, the arms are reduced to thin, crescent-shaped stumps curving towards the breasts. In this last instance no fingers are indicated, but in the two statues described above, digits are cursorily cut in the plaster by straight slashes. The number of fingers seems not to matter. One statue has four on the left hand and five on the right (Pl. 7.3.1c) and another has a right hand with seven fingers (Pl. 7.3.1a). The statues of Cache 2 have no arms or hands (see Grissom, chapter 7.1).

The legs of the later figures also received a lesser treatment. In Cache 1, they extend organically from the torso, tapering from the thigh to the knee, calf, and ankle. But in Cache 2, the legs are separated from the torso by a schematic groove. The projecting kneecaps translate the difference of thickness between the taut thighs and the calves. Feet are not preserved on the statues of Cache 1, except for a detached fragment that, peculiarly, shows six toes (Rollefson 1983: 36). In Cache 2, the statues have short and wide feet. The toes are cut with slashes of inconsistent lengths extending through half of the feet. The toenails, however, are carefully indicated.

Painting, widely used in the earlier statues, is reduced in the later ones. The statues of Cache 1 were treated with ochre before being smoothed. One head had sets of three stripes on the forehead and on each cheek. One figure is covered in front with a pattern of red, vertical lines along the thighs and legs that ends in a black, horizontal, broad band circling over the ankle (Pl. 7.3.1c). Another bears traces of a similar red design around the stomach and legs (Pl. 7.3.1b) and, in addition, these two statues were painted around the shoulders. In both of these figures, the intention may well have been to feature pants and bodices. Traces of pigment are limited to the face in the other set. There is no paint on the torsos of Cache 2.

The busts underwent the same stylization. Whereas in Cache 1 the single head extends naturally from a carefully smoothed, human-shaped torso (Pl. 7.3.1d), in Cache 2 the two heads awkwardly project in front of the bust (see Grissom, chapter 7.1).

Contrary to the rest of the body, the visage remains unchanged except in details. The statues of Cache 2 have almond-shaped eyes, sometimes slanting inwardly (see Grissom, chapter 7.1) a more pointed nose in the shape of a tetrahedron ring-shaped ears and a cleft chin (see Grissom, chapter 7.1). Those of Cache 1 have rounder eyes painted with a thin filament of an intense green pigment, with the surrounding black-bitumen ridge often left open at the corners, a blunt nose, lug-shaped ears, and a round chin. The most singular shift is in the treatment of the iris. In Cache 1 it is round—as it is in nature. Indeed, although all human races are characterized by a specific eye shape, they share an absolutely circular iris and pupil likewise, whereas each individual has facial features that make him or her unique, all humans have a perfectly circular iris and pupil. But the ‘Ain Ghazal figures of Cache 2 have a diamond-shaped iris or pupil. While their bodies are anthropomorphic, their eyes are not.

The large statuary of ‘Ain Ghazal evolved between 6750 and 6570 bc, over two or three hundred years. The main changes consisted of: (1) a possible fluctuation in the number of figures, from twenty-five to seven (2) the appearance of two-headed busts (3) a greater stylization and (4) diamond-shaped iris or pupils, which conveyed to the statues of Cache 2 an eerie, alien, or feline look, distinguishing them from the more benign figures of Cache 1. The fact that the statues and busts grew taller may be the most noteworthy feature. This may mean that the size or monumental quality of the statues increased in importance over time.

The Ain Ghazal Statues: Made from Reeds and Plaster

The Ain Ghazal statues were made with two primary raw materials – reeds and plaster. In addition, bitumen was also used, though only in small quantities. The bitumen was used to draw the outline of the eyes, and the irises.

Essentially the statues consist of a reed core covered in plaster. Considering the relatively large size of the statues, i.e., almost 1 m (3.3 ft) in height in some instances, it is believed that the various part of the statues (the head and neck, torso, and legs) were made separately before they were assembled.

A possible production process of the Ain Ghazal statues, based on current research, is as follows:

· First, the framework of the statue’s torso was formed by assembling bundles of reeds. Researchers found that in the smaller statues, at least eight bundles were used, while the larger ones used 20 or more bundles. It was also observed that these bundles were bound by individual cordage, which allowing the number of bundles to be determined.

· Next, the head and neck section, which were formed separately but in a similar way to the torso, were attached to the reed torso framework.

· Plaster would then be applied to the front of the torso, head, and neck. Once the plaster dried, the statue was flipped and its back covered with plaster.

· The head, neck and torso was then “attached” to the legs, which had also been made individually, and the joints between the two last sections were filled with plaster.

A beautiful two-headed Ain Ghazal statues, possibly a deity. On display at the Jordan Archaeological Museum, Amman, Jordan. (Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Strange figurines

In a paper published July 6 in the journal Antiquity, Ibáñez and his team describe how they came to see the flints as individual portrayals of specific people, despite their rough appearance.

Research shows the distinctive "violin" shape of the strange artifacts is similar to the shapes of Neolithic Near East sculptures that unmistakably portray people.

The team statistically compared the dimensions of the Kharaysin flints to those of human sculptures unearthed at 'Ain Ghazal, a Neolithic archaeological site a few miles away, and found they had a similar violin shape.

"The more skeptical archaeologists in our team had to accept that, most probably, they were [human] figurines," Ibáñez said.

The Neolithic community at Kharaysin used flint extensively for making stone tools, including cutting blades and scrapers. The two notches the archaeologists have interpreted as shoulders and hips could arguably have been notches used to bind the flints onto a haft. In that scenario, the flints could have been used as a weapon or tool. However, the flint artifacts had no edges that could be used for cutting, and there were no signs of wear, suggesting they were never used as tools.

In addition, the archaeologists found the strange flints mostly in the funerary area of the site where human burials took place, Ibáñez said.

Excavations show many of the tombs were opened after a burial, and some parts were removed &mdash often the heads and the long bones from limbs. People then used the bones in rituals, before depositing them in pits at the cemetery, he said. Offerings such as stone bowls, knives and other tools were also deposited at the same time.

"We think that the figurines were part of this ritual paraphernalia," Ibáñez said. "They were probably made and used during rituals of remembering the deceased."

The PPNB and The Yarmoukian Figurines: Differences and Similarities

The most significant innovation of the Yarmoukian figurines was their manufacture. They were made of the red mineral tempered clay used for pottery (Garfinkel 2004: 160), which means that they shared the clay produced by the household potter for practical vessels. Like the stereotyped bowls, jugs, and jars, Yarmoukian figurines became repetitive. The PPNB figurines were remarkable by their diversity and the Yarmoukian figures by their uniformity.

The ultimate fragmentation of figurines may be similar over time. Several MPPNB pieces were not broken at the neck, as one would expect since it is the most fragile point, but the break was below the shoulders (Cat. Nos. 6, 18, 22, 40). Similarly, one Yarmoukian example was severed below the thorax, at an equally structurally strong point (Cat. No. 44). This type of breakage is usually interpreted as evidence for the intentional smashing of the figurines. At other sites, the study of the fragmentation of figurines has led to interesting results concerning the number of breaks and the dispersal of the resulting multiple pieces (Gaydarska, Chapman, Raduncheva, and Koleva: 176-179). This type of analysis could not be done at ‘Ain Ghazal because the excavations never recovered several pieces belonging to a same figurine.

Another main difference between the two collections was style. The Yarmoukian seated females measured about 15 cm in other words, they were about three times as large as the usual PPNB figures. The most radical difference was the treatment of the facial features. When it is featured, the face of the PPNB figurines was typically human as opposed to the Yarmoukian visage, which was monstrous.

The Spatial Distribution

After completing the physical analysis of the artifacts, I now consider the context in which the figurines were recovered and the light it may shed on the collection. The human figurines were spread unevenly across the excavated area of ‘Ain Ghazal. Forty-five of the forty-nine figurines (Cat. Nos. 1-42, 45-47) were found in a cluster of trenches of the so-called “Central Field.” Figures 4.1.15 and 4.1.16 illustrate the number of human and conical figurines in each excavated square.

Fig. 4.1.15. Distribution of human figurines. Drawing by M. Al-Bataineh.

3067 = 3
3076 = 4
3077 = 5
3078 = 7
3079 = 3
3080 = 1
3081 = 4
3082 = 5
3083 = 3
3273 = 1
3282 = 6
3677 = 2
3680 = 1

Of the four remaining examples, two were excavated in the nearby Central Field, area II: 3482 = 2. Two more figurines were recovered in the neighboring “North Field”: 5315 = 1, 5316 = 1. Figurines were entirely absent from the trenches opened to the East and South of the site or the so-called “East Field” and “South Field.”

Fig. 4.1.16. Distribution of conical figurines. Drawing by M. Al-Bataineh.

The spatial distribution brings two pieces of information. First, the figurines occur in numbers sometimes as large as six or seven in a 5 m square rather than singly. This may suggest that several figurines were sometimes needed to fulfill their function. Second, and more importantly, the figurines are not spread evenly in the site but are concentrated in the region of the Central Field. This should not be dismissed by the fact that the area has been more thoroughly explored. Rather, it seems revealing that the concentration of figurines matches district thought to be used exclusively for habitation. Accordingly, forty-two figurines came from MPPNB domestic houses (Cat. Nos. 1-42) and two from a Yarmoukian home (Cat. Nos. 45-47) (Kafafi, Rollefson, and Simmons 1990: 14).

The Architectural Context

The stratigraphy of ‘Ain Ghazal concurs with the spatial distribution in showing that the variation in the number of figurines can be correlated to radical changes in architecture (Rollefson 1998: 45-55). The figurines are most numerous in the MPPNB small buildings used as dwellings. On the other hand, the decrease in the number of figurines in the LPPNB corresponds to the appearance of formal structures. Figurines were not present in the LPPNB apsidal or circular buildings with thick plaster floors, and neither in the multiple-roomed structures. Not a single one was exposed in the “special buildings” of dressed limestone where platforms and rows of orthostats denote a religious function (Rollefson 1998: 48-51). Figurines remained virtually absent when architecture stalled in the PPNC. None were recovered in the vicinity of the presumed PPNC shrine housing the female stone statuette of a pregnant female, either (see Schmandt-Besserat, chapter 5.1). As for the Yarmoukian figurines, the two clay heads were recovered in a large Yarmoukian II house with a courtyard (Square 3677) (Kafafi, Rollefson, and Simmons 1990: 14). Finally, two were located in a re-used apsidal building (Square 3482, Area II) (Rollefson, Kafafi, and Simmons 1991: 110-111) where left behind decorated bowls of fine ceramics also suggest a domestic function (Rollefson, Kafafi, and Simmons 1989: 22 1991: 110-111).

In sum, the spatial and the chronological distribution of the figurines at ‘Ain Ghazal emphatically concur to establish that the artifacts belonged to domestic rather than public life. They were made, used, and disposed of in everyday usage.

The Artifactual Context

As it is generally the case in other sites, the figurines were consistently found in the fill in or around the houses (Meskell, Nakamura, King, and Farid: 145). None was found in a specific context such as on a house floor, in a niche, or in a container. The only examples that can be considered in situ are those recovered in fire pits (Cat. Nos. 19, 20, 32, 41, 48). Because the figurines were not recovered in a precise location, it is difficult to assess whether their association with other significant objects of ‘Ain Ghazal was intended or fortuitous. This is particularly tantalizing for the figurines found in the same squares as the following significant ‘Ain Ghazal finds:

  • the red painted human skull in square 3078 (Cat. Nos. 14-20) (see Rollefson, Schmandt-Besserat, and Rose, chapter 5)
  • the bull figurine laid in a storage bin in square 3082 (Cat. No. 33) (see Schmandt-Besserat, chapter 3.1)
  • the two animal figurines stabbed with flints in squares 3083/3283 (Cat. Nos. 35, 36) (Rollefson and Simmons 1986a: 150-152, Fig. 10 see Schmandt-Besserat, chapter 3.1)
  • quantities of charred peas, lentils, and barley in squares 3083/3283 (Cat. Nos. 35-36) (Rollefson and Simmons 1986a: 150)
  • a large collection of tokens in square 3078 (Cat. Nos. 14-20) (Rollefson and Simmons 1984: 21- 22, Table 7 see Iceland, chapter 2.1)
  • The evidence for the relation of the human figurines to mortuary practices is contradictory. Cat. Nos. 13 and 35, according to field notes, may conceivably be associated with infant burials. On the other hand, the fact that no human figurine was found around any of the skull caches (Rollefson and Simmons 1984: 25) seems to indicate that they were not part of those rituals.

One would especially like to know whether the figurines were in any way associated with the ‘Ain Ghazal statuary (see Schmandt-Besserat, chapter 7.5). Cat. Nos. 5-8, found in the fill around the first cache of statues in square 3076 (Rollefson and Simmons 1984: 27), and Cat. Nos. 37- 42, recovered with the second cache in square 3282, could suggest that there was indeed a relation between the two types of human effigies. If this were so, it would provide an interesting background for three of the most unique clay figurines of the collection (Cat. Nos. 38, 39 and 40). However, it is more likely that the figurines and statues had, in fact, nothing in common. There is strong evidence that the statuary was buried in the ruins of houses after they had been long abandoned with the figurines they contained (Rollefson and Simmons 1986b: 51-52 1987: 104).

The Context of Deposition

While no conclusive evidence can be drawn from the association of the figurines with other artifacts, the different deposition context of the PPN and PN figurines is informative. Forty-one PPN figurines were found mixed with discarded items and twenty-eight times the surrounding sediments showed clear evidence of fire in the form of ashes, charcoal, burnt bones, and heat-cracked stones. On the other hand, the Yarmoukian figurines were embedded with household trash including animal bones and flints. Therefore, although all the PPNB and Yarmoukian figurines originated in similar domestic contexts, it is clear that their disposal points towards a different usage. The PPN figurines ended up in fire before they had time to dry, and thereafter, some were deposited with other burnt items in the ruins of abandoned houses (Cat. Nos. 2, 3, 6, 10, 11, 33, 36), and others in vacant areas (Cat. Nos. 9, 12, 13, 15). On the other hand, the Yarmoukian figures that were baked and painted were perhaps displayed in houses until they were broken and discarded. A number of PPN figurines may have been intentionally smashed but the same cannot be said of the Yarmoukian bust broken at the neck (Cat. No. 43).

Parallels at ‘Ain Ghazal

The following discussion compares and contrasts the human figurines with the other types of symbols at ‘Ain Ghazal—the statuary, stone statuette, plastered skulls, tokens and animal figurines—that bore a meaning beyond their appearance. As discussed in previous publications, the tentative interpretations proposed for each of this type of artifacts are based on Near Eastern iconography and traditions. The purpose of the investigation is to probe for possible relations within the symbolic assemblage and ultimately better understand the significance of the human figurines

The statuary and the figurines differ in scale and material (see Schmandt-Besserat, chapter 7.5). The statues are monumental next to the small figurines. Whereas the clay to model the figurines was ready to be scooped up at the site, the statues were made of plaster, a dazzling white material that required a large input of energy to produce. The disposal was also different. The statues were not part of collections of discarded items and showed no contact with fire, but were instead laid carefully in a pit before being buried. For these three reasons, it is safe to assume that the significance of the two types of human representation was not the same. The importance of the large statues and busts was to lend the gods a tangible form to be propitiated in communal rituals. The figurines could not serve such a public function. In particular, because they were only a few centimeters high, they could not, like the statues, be carried in procession and be the focus of communal ceremonies. However, there is a definite stylistic link between five miniature clay busts and the statuary. The two genres share the same facial features with the brows and nose disposed in a T-shape the eyes are emphasized, and the mouth is minimized or ignored. It may also be particularly significant that they sport a same flattish headdress and lift their face in the same anxious way.

Except for the fact that both genres featured a woman’s body, the female figurines had nothing in common with the statuette (see Schmandt-Besserat, chapter 5.1). First, the clay figurines were temporary but the stone figure was permanent second, the figurines were clumsily modeled, but the female forms of the statuette were brilliantly translated into a geometric composition of circles and triangles requiring advance planning and careful execution third, the statuette was probably displayed seated on a throne in a small shrine, but the figurines were household items with no public function. Finally, the pink-colored stone of the statuette celebrated nudity and her pregnant anatomy glorified the mystery of life. The flat female figurines covered with a deep all-over pattern had to bear a different meaning.

The plastered skulls that reconstituted human facial features were radically different from the faceless conical figurines (see Schmandt-Besserat, chapter 6.2). Compared to the more naturalistic figurines measured in millimeters, the plastered masks, modeled on actual skulls, were human size. Unlike the figurines, they were carefully buried under the house floors and had no association with fire. The plastered skulls perhaps already embodied the ancient Near Eastern traditional belief that, from the Great Beyond, the dead could see the past, the present, and the future and therefore could protect a household against evil. But there is no sign that the figurines had any ties with mortuary rituals.

Among the many shapes of tokens, the cones that stood for units of grain were particularly frequent (see Schmandt-Besserat, chapter 2.3). They occurred in two sizes: the small cones were usually 1 or 2 cm high and the large ones were typically above 3 cm. Archaeologists could easily mistake the conical figurines for tokens and vice versa. Of course the same was not true in antiquity when the two types of artifacts were most likely manufactured and handled by different peoples in different contexts.

The PPN human and animal figurines were most closely related (see Schmandt-Besserat, chapter 3.1). They belonged to the same period, and the same domestic context. They were made of the same clay in equivalent sizes and in the same casual way. The fact that both types of figurines were consistently found mixed with charcoal and ashes speaks for a similar function. However, it is unlikely that they were used simultaneously in a single event because when the two types of figurines are found in the same vicinity, the composition of their paste generally does not match. As Jacques Cauvin had noted, human female and bull figurines were often fashioned during the Neolithic period, but contrary to his interpretation, the fact that their manufacture differed indicates that they were not made and not used together (Cauvin 1997: 148-150).

The symbols at ‘Ain Ghazal could take geometric or animal shapes, but the human anatomy prevailed. This leads to the awesome conclusion that people turned mostly to the human form to represent the supernatural to embody the mystery of life and death and to create benign or malefic idols. Consequently, one may expect that the human figurines too were used as instruments to manipulate supernatural powers to satisfy human hopes or fears.

Parallels in Near Eastern Neolithic Sites

Human figurines or fragments thereof are commonly found among Neolithic remains across the Near East (Kozlowski and Aurenche 2005: 27). Their number, however, differs greatly from one site to the other. Although it is problematic to compare collections without taking into consideration the number of excavation campaigns or the surface excavated, sites in Turkey and in Iran, seem more prolific than ‘Ain Ghazal in producing figurines. In Nevali Cori, 486 human figurines of various types are reported (Morsch 2002: 151) 61 in Cayonu Tepesi, Turkey (Broman Morales 1990: 60-64, Plates 22-24) and 625 in Tepe Sarab, Iran (Broman Morales 1990: 10- 19, Pl. 6d-g and 7-14). The reverse is true in the Levant, where the collection of 49 figurines at ‘Ain Ghazal outnumbers the 19 specimens at Munhata (Garfinkel 1995: 15-20, Figs. 13-14), 14 at Jericho (Holland 1982: 551-153), and 14 at Ghoraifé (Contenson 1995: 321, Fig. 199: 11). In Jordan, there are 23 at Es-Sifiya, Wadi Mujib (Mahasneh, Gebel 1998: 106, Table 1), three at Ghuwayr-I (Simmons 2000: 7 Simmons, Najjar 2003: 421), one at Wadi Shu’eib (Simmons, Rollefson, Kafafi, et al.: 2001: 27-8, 31-2, Figs 14-15), and one at Tell Abu Suwwan (Al-Nahar: 2009). Finally, there are none at Dhuweila (Betts 1998: 136) and none at Basta, where the assemblage included small human heads carved in stone as well as clay animal figurines and tokens, but not a single clay human figurine example (Gebel, Hermansen 1999: 11-12 Hermansen 1997: 334, 338 Pls. 4a-b).

Conical figurines are frequently represented in the Near East, including the Levant, Turkey, and as far as Iran. All share the same stable circular base and a conical body, but each site displays some slightly different idiosyncratic characteristics. For example in Syria, at Tell Ramad (Contenson 2000: 179-216, Fig. 100: 16-27), and in Turkey at Çatal Hüyük (Hamilton 2005: 188) the tip of the cone may be pinched into a schematic head sometimes with a nose and eyes. In Jordan, at Gwair I, the top of the cone is bent over and covered with fine punctuations (Najjar: 2002: 105, Fig. 8), and at es-Sifiye, several of the conical figurines are given stumpy arms (Mahasneh, Bienert 1999: 117: 1-3, Fig. 4 and Pl. 23:A). The closest parallels to ‘Ain Ghazal in Syria are those of Tell Aswad (Contenson 1995: 182, Fig. 126: 18-24 127: 1-7 321, Fig 199:11), Tell Assouad (Cauvin 1972: 101, Fig. 4:5), in Israel, Munhata (Garfinkel 1995: 125, Fig. 40:12), in Turkey, Nevali Cori (Morsch 2002: 149, Pl. 4:2) and Hacilar (Voigt 2007: 492a, Fig. 12.4), and in Iran, Zaghe (Daems: 2004: 12-13, Fig. 18), because at these sites the base of the cone also suggests legs.

In Munhata (Garfinkel 1995: 70-73, Figs. 13: 2-4 14: 3, 5, 7), and ‘Ain Ghazal small figures are shown wearing a square headdress and anxiously turning their faces and big pellet eyes upwards (No. 6 and 21). The same personage occurs at Tell Aswad, in the same position, and with the same headdress, but the eyes are coffee bean shaped (Stordeur 2003: 11 Fig. 6: 1). By contrast, the three ‘Ain Ghazal females have no true match, mostly because they are clothed and the others are nude, but also because they are lying down or kneeling, while elsewhere the figures are usually seated (Nishiaki 2007: 117-125, Fig. 1-2). The exact impressed pattern that covers the three female figures is found, however, around the base of a conical figurine from Ghoraifé (Contenson 1978-1979: 157, Fig. 12). Contrary to statements in the literature, ‘Ain Ghazal has presently no match for the visual display of male genitals (Khalaily, Bar-Yosef, and Boaretto 2007: 24-25, Fig. 17: 1). Of course, in some cases, gender identification may be subjective, and it should be mentioned that the preliminary study of the ‘Ain Ghazal figurines identified as “male” some of the fragments classified here as “non-diagnostic” (McAdam 1997: 123, Figs. 6-7) (Cat. Nos. 26, 31, 32).

Crude busts of limestone are familiar in Syria at Tell Sabi Abyad II (Verhoeven 1997: 2-3, Fig. 3: 2-3) and Tell Assouad (Cauvin: 1972: 101, Fig. 4: 6), and as far as Guecuetepe II, in Turkey (Schmidt, Beile-Bohn 1996: 10). Like at ‘Ain Ghazal, the objects belonging to LPPNB are small and ruthlessly stylized with crudely pierced eyes (Cat. No. 48). However, unlike these examples, the bust from ‘Ain Ghazal shows no trace of having been originally fastened to a clay or wooden body.

Unlike the conical and female figures, but more like the coiffed busts, the geographic distribution of the Yarmoukian figurines never reached further than the Levant. Beyond ‘Ain Ghazal, the pebble figurines occur only in two Israeli sites: Sha’ar Hagolan and Munhata (Gopher, Orrelle 1996: 257-258, Fig. 2: 1, 3). There are Pebble figurines in Byblos. A large collection of seventy-four fragments of the seated male or female clay figures comes from Sha’ar Hagolan in Israel. They are represented further at Munhata (Garfinkel 1995: 54-56, 94-97, Fig. 25: 3, 26: 5), Megiddo, and Tel Aviv (Rehov Habashan). Finally, they are also present in Byblos, in Lebanon (Garfinkel, Miller 2002: 194) and several fragments occur at Abu Thawwab in Jordan (Kafafi 2001: 59-60, Fig. 20).

This short review exemplifies that the Neolithic villagers of the 7th millennium BC interpreted the human form in many multiple ways. Some of their innovations in portraying new styles or postures remained unique while others were repeated. Among the most popular types, the genderless conical figures and the heavy females are most consistently represented throughout the Near East. Their ubiquitous recurrence signals that these established types, at least, fulfilled a significant pan-Near Eastern function. A single type of figurine known only from its broken heads, big eyes, and flat headdresses, seems particular to the Levant. Because the little figures show the same features and headdress as the large ‘Ain Ghazal statuary, it is likely that both types of artifacts represent a specific personage meaningful in the region in the early 7th millennium BC.

‘Ain Ghazal

‘Ain Ghazal, a site named for a nearby spring (‘ain) and situated along the edge of Wadi Zarqa, was first discovered in 1974 when Jordanian road developers began building Army Street, the freeway connecting Amman and Zarqa. The site’s significance was realized through a series of findings in the early 1980s. ‘Ain Ghazal is of great importance for the study of prehistoric human society. During more than 2,000 years of Neolithic occupation (approximately 7500–5,000 B.C.), the inhabitants of this prehistoric village site cultivated crops, hunted, foraged, and also herded sheep and goats. The site saw changes in domestic architecture, stone-tool technology, use of plaster and clay technology, and animal husbandry. During its peak of occupation, between around 7200 and 6500 B.C., the inhabitants buried several plaster statues beneath the floors of houses, a practice that may in part mirror the sub-floor burial of human remains at the site.

The excavation team uncovered several exquisite ritual artifacts, including clay figurines in the shape of animals and humans, the latter considered to be some of the oldest sculptures of the human form in the Levant. Interpreted as hunting and fertility amulets, these figurines provide insights into daily and ritual life of inhabitants of the Neolithic-era Levant.

Miniature clay figurines from ‘Ain Ghazal, on exhibit at the Jordan Archaeological Museum (Citadel Museum), Amman. August 2020. (Photo by J. Green.)

ACOR supported the excavations at ‘Ain Ghazal (1982–1998), which were carried out under the direction of Gary O. Rollefson, then of San Diego State University, who received ACOR fellowships for his research on the Neolithic in 1978, 1980, and 1998. He was also the ACOR Annual Professor in 1981–82. Rollefson was joined by co-directors Zeidan Kafafi of the Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at Yarmouk University and Alan H. Simmons of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

The excavations at ‘Ain Ghazal, which ended in 1998, have provided meaningful evidence concerning the social organization and ritual behavior of Neolithic society in the Levant, as well as about developments in occupation resulting from environmental change. Funded by an ACOR-NEH Fellowship in 2017–2018, Rollefson has also shown that areas east of ‘Ain Ghazal, which are now desert, were more lush in Neolithic times, supporting more vegetation, livestock, and human population.

Gary Rollefson with a two-headed statue made from plaster, reed, and bitumen, found at ‘Ain Ghazal, on display at the Jordan Museum, November 2017. (Photo by J. Green.)

ACOR also aided emergency interventions at ‘Ain Ghazal in 2011–2012, and through its USAID Sustainable Cultural Heritage Through Engagement of Local Communities Project (SCHEP) supported an applied capacity-building program at the site in 2019 in partnership with the Department of Antiquities (DOA). This program responded to an immediate threat to ‘Ain Ghazal posed by impending road works, and was conducted alongside emergency excavations at the site, led by Basem Mahamid of the DOA and supported by SCHEP. Gary Rollefson, who is now at Whitman College in Washington state, had direct involvement in this program, leading workshops for 18 DOA employees, recent graduates, and young researchers.

Ain Ghazal statue

Representation of the upper part of a body with two heads.
H 46.5 cm W 30 cm D 19.5 cm

The Ain Ghazal statues are among the earliest known large-scale human figures. There are two groups of statues which were deposited in two different parts, with a difference of 200 years: approx. 6700 BC and 6500 BC.

Excavations at the Neolithic site of Ayn Ghazal in Amman, in 1983 and 1985, uncovered over 30 human statues in two groups. The statues were found neatly aligned inside two pits that were dug on purpose, which led the excavators to conclude that they were intentionally buried rather than merely discarded.

The statues were formed a skeleton of reed, covered with plaster. The bodies are flat, indicating that they were made on a flat surface. The heads are emphasised and the eyes are painted with bitumen, which was brought from the Dead Sea.


Feldman, K., 2021. Ain-Ghazal (Jordan) Pre-pottery Neolithic B Period pit of lime plaster human figures. [Online]
Available at: https://www.brown.edu/Departments/Joukowsky_Institute/courses/architectu…

Grissom, C. A., 2000. Neolithic Statues from ‘Ain Ghazal: Construction and Form. American Journal of Archaeology, 104(1), pp. 25-45.

Rollefson, G. O., Simmons, A. H. & Kafafi, Z., 1992. Neolithic Cultures at ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan. Journal of Field Archaeology, 19(4), pp. 443-470.

Watch the video: Ancient Artifacts In Egypt That Egyptologists Do Not Understand (June 2022).


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