Home History A Global History of Child Death: Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes
During the Pottery Neolithic and Chalcolithic jar burials were prevalent. Infant burials were rather elaborate considering that is was a time known for few onsite burials. Jar burials are interpreted as a simulation of a womb. Most jars were laid on their sides but some were inverted, with the neck opening downward—perhaps simulating a rebirth. Jars found on and below floors, corners, thresholds or by wells, generally included children from fetus stage to ten years old. Jars with long necks and narrow openings were reserved for older children. Neonates had wider mouth vessels, indicating a “sentimental” burial.
As noted previously, among prehistoric groups it was often difficult to ascertain whether a burial was the result of a ritual sacrifice. In Southern Levant, many of the excavated remains were identified as males. Different interpretations of the burials could reveal ritual sacrifice of males in general or firstborn males; or they could signify sentimental burial of beloved children combined with the particular locations of the children.34 African jar burials hint at sacrifice, given the location of the deposit and the lack of grave goods; this in addition to evidence of violence, dismemberment in particular. During this same period, jar burials were prevalent in the Near East. Burial location combined with the use of the vessels appears to indicate a call for rainfall and prevention of drought. Orrelle also suggests that this culture was involved in “elite” beverage production, as evidenced by the diverse use of drinking vessels for many purposes. The practices of the people of the Pottery Neolithic in Southern Levant share some common attributes to those in Neolithic Northern Sudan in that a fetus may be found in a pot in relation to the house enclosure, and a stillborn baby, who had not yet “drawn a breath”, were buried just outside the outer wall. In Zimbabwe, premature or aborted babies were buried in a jar and placed in the sand of a dry river bed. When it rained, the sand and the baby were washed out from the jar like a birth so that, symbolically, the mother could get pregnant again after the baby was “delivered”.35
In the Chalcolithic period in Northern Levant a necropolis of jars and other burials was unearthed. Nearly forty percent of the burials were children, and included grave goods of metal hooks, cups, weapons, bone and ivory items, and art objects. Non-typical jars contained infants, buried vertically, and ten percent of these jar burials were found near or under houses.36 Some pots were used specifically for burial, while others were reused cooking vessels. Cooking and eating often took place in the same place as burial, as exemplified by the finding described in the opening of this chapter. Babies’ vessels were circular while older children were in jars; as discussed earlier the different shapes were symbolic.
In addition to jar burials, children could also be found inhumed. Occasionally cemeteries with single burials could be found in the Mediterranean or Near East, but these were less common. When multiple burials occurred, it was usually with several other children, or with a woman assumed to be the mother. Infants at times could be found in baskets with distinctive grasses indicating that the receptacles were not used for household chores; therefore, ascribing these items as common burial vehicles for the very young. It is important to note that interpretation of some burial practices is confounded by newer burials on top of older ones.37
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