Concluding Remarks

In addition to the development of more local provinces, there would appear to be a gradual increase in the sophistication and nature of funerary practices through a time trajectory in the south-central Levantine PPNB. They include, in addition to the integration of the quick and the dead within living quarters, the possible emergence of ritual centers on-site (Beidha, Jericho PPNA, and probably also 'Ain Ghazal), as well as localities that perhaps functioned primarily as regional funerary centers (Kfar HaHoresh-Nahal Hemar was less likely a ritual center rather than a repository of symbolic artifacts similar to the later Chalcolithic Nahal Mishmar hoard).

These elaborations of a deep-rooted belief system stretching back to the Early Natufian reach an apogee in the Central/Southern Levant about the mid/late PPNB and parallel the growth and density of site sizes at about the time of the introduction of animal husbandry into the region. As such it may be suggested that they reflect mechanisms attempting to accommodate the social and economic stresses and dislocations concerned with the growth of large-scale, permanently occupied population centers.

In particular the central role of skull removal and the increasinglyelabo-rate specific treatments afforded them reflect concerns with integrating the living communities with their forebears—that is, the veneration of ancestors, as has been widely hypothesized. However, it seems probable that this concerned not only the community "elders" as has been commonly emphasized. Rather it seems more likely that it reflects inherited or otherwise acquired status, as evidenced by its possible cross-gender and cross-age application. On the other hand, the more elaborate treatments to a minority of mostly young (male?) individuals could indicate attained status. The accumulation of power, in the form of prestige, rights, and more tangible wealth (property, fields, and herds), would have necessitated the development of regulatory social mechanisms in their orderly transfer from one generation to the next.

In the Southern and Central Levant it is clear that in the second half of the ninth millennium BP several factors, such as population pressure, local long-term ecological degradation of resources around larger sites, and the general overextension of the system, and possible environmental deterioration with the onset of the Atlantic period and the withdrawal of the mon-soonal system, combined to necessitate a shift to more mobile economies and less dense populations. This was perhaps facilitated or even necessitated by the local introduction of herded animals during the mid/late PPNB. Consequently, many of the ritual regulatory mechanisms seemingly became obsolete in the face of the new realities, as evidenced by their decline during the Late/Final PPNB/PPNC and their eventual disappearance by the Yarmukian (Rollefson and Kohler-Rollefson 1993).

Indeed, it is interesting to speculate that if a major role of these mortuary practices and associated belief systems was directed toward enhancing social cohesion and the ideologically egalitarian nature of the living communities, then they may have been initially successful when community sizes were still quite small. However, as some communities expanded during the PPNB, internal social stresses became more acute, as reflected by increasingly more sophisticated embellishments to previous practices. However, in the (ideologically enforced) absence of some form of centralized and powerful decision-making authority or apparatus, such large communities would have been unsustainable over the long run, irrespective of ecological degradation and similar factors (see Kuijt 1995).

In the northern Levant and Anatolia, however, many sites along the major rivers continued to prosper and grow during the eighth millennium bp, with an increasingly sophisticated emphasis on centralized ritual and mortuary behavior, seen at Nevali Çori, Gôbekli Tepe, Çayônû, and Çatal Hûyûk. The reasons for this dichotomy appear to be a mixture of geographic and climatic factors, involving specific ecological settings (linear settlement patterns along major river systems), resources, and communications and exchange networks. However, it also possible that mechanisms were found to modify the nature and relevance of the belief systems associated with skull removal. Ironically then, such deep-rooted and long-lasting beliefs and the inability to develop strong centralized political/ritual authority thus may be viewed as contributing to the ultimate demise cf PPNB village society in the southern Levant, based as it was on much earlier, Epi-Paleolithic egalitarian principles.

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