Shaft Burial In The Early Bronze Age

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Burials are one of the main sources of knowledge concerning the Early Bronze Age. The most common practice during this time was placing several generations of one family in the same cave or tomb with a variety of offerings, such as pottery vessels, jewelry, and metal objects. In most cases, skeletal remains were found disarticulated with the skulls separated from the bodies. For example, at Tell Asawir bones were packed in pottery jars; at Azor there is some evidence of cremation; and at Jericho the skulls were separated and arranged in rows (Mazar 1990). Shaft tombs were found at some sites, such as the vast cemetery at Bab edhDhra’, where the Early Bronze Age I phase includes several thousand shaft tombs. As no settlement was established in this phase, the cemetery may have belonged to pastoral semi-nomads. This notion is supported by the method of burial––no more than six or seven individuals were found in each cave; each of these were disarticulated––the long bones arranged in one pile and the skulls laid out in a row (Mazar 1990). The flesh was probably extracted from the bones by boiling, a practice which would have suited the semi-nomadic lifestyle of those who may have kept the bones of the deceased in temporary graves or shelters until they could bring them to final burial in a more central or sacred cemetery (Mazar 1990). Multiple interment in caves continued into the Early Bronze Age II-III. This phase at Bab edh-Dhra’ includes rectangular burial chambers (Mazar 1990).

Most of the cemeteries found in the Southern Levant during the Early Bronze Age IV are composed of shaft tombs. The details differ from site to sites and sometimes within the same site (e.g. Jericho). At some of the sites, such as those nea...

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...n Canaan. However, another explanation, beyond the mere availability of bedrock, must be sought for the presence of built tombs. This explanation may be related to cultural factors, as these are the largest tombs and required the most effort to construct. One of the shaft burials is likely associated with one of the chamber tombs, the shaft probably comprising the original access to the chamber tomb. When the massive earthen embankment was deposited over the remains of the previous occupation and tomb shaft, a new shaft was dug out. The question is whether the burials date to the shallow, pre-embankment shaft or the deeper post-embankment shaft. At least four individuals with burial goods were interred here; the uppermost was flexed and relatively intact. The configuration of flexed position and burial goods rules out the simple disposal of refuse (Ilan 1995).

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