Archaeology: Ritual artefacts’ from the Neolithic period at 'Ain Ghazal, Jordan
The ancient site of ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan was only recently discovered in the 1970s and has, unfortunately, has been damaged due to construction work. The Neolithic period here can be divided into four separate phases: the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (MPPNB), L ate Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (LPPNB), Pre-Pottery Neolithic C (PPNC), and the Yannoukian Pottery Neolithic, which span an occupation time from c. 7250 to 5000 BCE.
Ritual artifacts can tell us much about ancient cultures; what or who they believed in, how the society worked, how they influenced later civilizations and such like. They are the building blocks archaeologists and anthropologists use when constructing the history of a particular people.
At ‘Ain Ghazal, the majority of ritual artifacts found were small clay figurines of animals and humans, both fired and unfired. There were also figurines made of plaster, limestone and chalk.
The MPPNB phase produced the majority of these little figurines, with the human designs being most abundant. The ‘fertility figures’ were the most common, with their pendulous breasts, distorted stomachs and the characteristic tattooing covering nearly the entire body.
The animal figures, which include at least one seated canid, seem to have a more ritualistic purpose. Where goat bones seem to be more commonly found at the site, there seems to be only two figures that can be claimed to be that particular animal, which scholars have suggested contempt for the familiar.
Cattle figurines were the dominant theme; however, archaeological evidence has revealed little evidence that cattle were domesticated at this time. In addition to this, finds of figures of cattle being killed suggests that they were used in hunting magic. With other figures of bulls with twisted fiber cords around their heads suggests some sort of harnesses – all in all, these figures may suggest some sort of ‘cattle cult’ in ‘Ain Ghazal during the MPPNB phase.
The PPNC phase has unfortunately revealed a limited number of figurines. The human figures are not so nearly as impressive as the ones dating to the first phase. Likewise, the Yannoukian period has very little to offer in regards to ritual artifacts. However, the famous ‘coffee bean’ figures has given scholars some wonderful insights to the ceremonial behavior of this time and are almost identical to other fertility figures from Munhata.
The ritual artifacts from ‘Ain Ghazal reveals much about the ritualistic behavior of the people who once lived here and continual excavations will help us understand more about human cultural evolution in this region.
Rollefson, Gary O., Simmons, Alan H. & Kafafi, Zeidan (1992) Neolithic Cultures at 'Ain Ghazal, Jordan, Journal of Field Archaeology, Boston University.