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A bioarchaeological and forensic re-assessment of vulture defleshing and mortuary practices at Neolithic Çatalhöyük

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During the Neolithic, mortuary practices in the Near East sometimes involved intramural burial and often some type of removal or caching of the bony elements of the head. Reports of defleshing are described in the literature, but there is little published evidence for other surface modifications of human remains. In his 1960s publications on the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük, James Mellaart proposed that individuals were defleshed by vultures prior to intramural interment. This hypothesis was predominantly based on the discovery of wall paintings of large raptorial birds hovering over headless bodies, coupled with the various states of disarticulation of many of the human remains excavated on site, including ‘headless’ bodies (those missing the cranium and mandible), as well as isolated crania and other skeletal elements. Despite these observations, subsequent osteological analysis has failed to show definitive taphonomic evidence of such practices. However, current forensic work on human decomposition has shed new light on the effects of vulture defleshing on human remains. Initial results indicate that vultures are adept at soft tissue removal, defleshing a body in a matter of hours over the course of several visits. Moreover, the skeleton can be left largely articulated (at least initially) and display limited skeletal marks from the defleshing process. In light of these recent taphonomic studies, the possibility of vulture defleshing at Çatalhöyük is re-visited here. In many subfloor burials, body position, skeletal articulation, and skeletal completeness are consistent with a taphonomic signature of defleshing prior to interment. Furthermore, defleshing would have facilitated body part removal and may have been necessary for intramural interments. This re-assessment of mortuary treatments at Çatalhöyük may provide a new way of evaluating the skeletal assemblage at the site and can serve as a model for the interpretation of vulture iconography in the ancient Near East.
OriginalsprogEngelsk
TidsskriftJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Vol/bind10
Sider (fra-til)735-743
Antal sider9
ISSN2352-409X
DOI
StatusUdgivet - 1 dec. 2016

ID: 231859676