Distancing the dead: Late chalcolithic burials in large maze caves in the negev desert, Israel

Uri Davidovich, Micka Ullman, Boaz Langford, Amos Frumkin, Dafna Langgut, Naama Yahalom-Mack, Julia Abramov, Nimrod Marom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Late Chalcolithic of the southern Levant (ca. 4500–3800 b.c.e.) is known for its extensive use of the subterranean sphere for mortuary practices. Numerous natural and hewn caves, constituting formal extramural cemeteries, were used as secondary burial localities for multiple individuals, reflecting and reaffirming social order and/or communal identity and ideology. Recently, two large complex caves located in the northern Negev Highlands, south of the densely settled Late Chalcolithic province of the Beersheba Valley, yielded skeletal evidence for secondary interment of select individuals accompanied by sets of material culture that share distinct similarities. The observed patterns suggest that the interred individuals belonged to sedentary communities engaging in animal husbandry, and they were deliberately distanced after their death, both above-ground (into the desert) and underground (deep inside subterranean mazes), deviating from common cultural practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-152
Number of pages40
JournalBulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 May 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank numerous colleagues for their assistance during different stages of research: Shemseh Yaʿaran (discovery and mapping of Qina Cave); Tal Rogovski (field and lab photography); Pavel Shargo (photography of Fig. 14); Olga Dubovskaya (artifact drawings); Ortal Harosh and the Computerized Archaeology Lab at The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (pottery scanning); Noa Klein and Adi Ben-Nun (software use); and Henk Mienis (shell taxonomy). The human skeletal remains were analyzed under the guidance of Israel Hershkovitz from the Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory, the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and National Research Center, Tel Aviv University. We also wish to express our gratitude to the volunteers who participated in the archaeological surveys in both caves. The archaeological surveys were conducted with permission from the Israel Antiquities Authority (license nos. S-337/2012 and S-414/2013). The final version of this article benefited greatly from the detailed comments and suggestions made by two anonymous reviewers, and we are thankful for both.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Schools of Oriental Research.


  • Animal husbandry
  • Ashalim cave
  • Cave burials
  • Chalcolithic
  • Levant
  • Mortuary practices
  • Qina cave
  • Social deviancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Archaeology


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