Variability and complexity in calcite-based plaster production: A case study from a Pre-Pottery Neolithic B infant burial at Tel Roʻim West and its implications to mortuary practices in the Southern Levant

David E. Friesem, Marie Anton, Paula Waiman-Barak, Ruth Shahack-Gross, Dani Nadel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The production of lime plaster is considered as one of the hallmarks of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B [PPNB] period in the Southern Levant, where lime plaster has been used not only in architectural but also in mortuary contexts. In this study we investigate the technology used to produce plaster associated with an infant burial found in the PPNB layers at the site of Tel Roʻim West [TRW]. Bulk sediment samples and undisturbed impregnated sediment block samples were studied using Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, micromorphology and micro-FTIR. In addition, we report the results of experimental heating of chalk and marl used as geological reference materials. The results indicate that plaster associated with the burial appears in various compositions, and that none of them is based on pyrogenic production of lime. Rather, these plaster materials are composed of calcite-based crushed/ground local marl and/or chalk that were mixed with anthropogenic remains including fired-clay aggregates, burnt (carbonised) chalk fragments, bones and vegetal matter (the latter clearly used as temper). The case study from TRW provides new insights regarding the production of non-pyrogenic calcite-based plasters in mortuary contexts during the PPNB. This study calls for a re-consideration of archaeological plaster technology: while in the field it is often assumed that PPNB plaster is a product of pyrotechnology our results suggest that in certain cases archaeologists should consider other, non-pyrogenic, technologies of plaster production. We argue for a more widespread use of non-pyrogenic calcite-based plaster than previously suggested, not only in architectural but also in mortuary contexts. We discuss the social, ecological and technological roles plaster production played in PPNB societies in the Southern Levant.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105048
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Volume113
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank C. French for the use of the FTIR instrument at the McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology at the University of Cambridge, S. Mentzer and C. Miller for the use of the micro-FTIR at the University of T?bingen and J. J. Gottlieb, conservator at the Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies, University of Haifa, for the production of the archaeological and experimental thin sections. We thank the area supervisors during field work: T. Ghraieb, U. Grinberg, A. Haeim and P. Spivak, and K. Krater and E. Krater Gershtein for their work on the skeleton. We also thank A. Tsatskin, N. Shtober-Zisu and R. Linn for their contribution to the project. Work was carried out under Israel Antiquities Authority license number B-291/2004.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019

Keywords

  • FTIR
  • Micromorphology
  • Mortuary ritual
  • PPNB
  • Plaster
  • Pyrotechnology
  • Southern Levant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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