The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Length: 65.000 cm
Height: 50.000 cm
Diameter: 30.000 cm
Excavated by J. Perrot (1958-59)
Ossuary in the form of a house
Chalcolithic, mid-5th-4th millennium
From Azor, southern Levant
A house for the dead
The ossuary was the most common form of burial from the Chalcolithic culture of the southern Levant. The corpse would have been laid out until the flesh decomposed, and the bones then gathered and placed in the box. Primary burial appears to have been uncommon, and may have been limited to infants and children, and to adults who died in unusual circumstances.
The number of settlements in Palestine and Transjordan increased greatly during the Chalcolithic period, from the mid- fifth millennium to the end of the fourth millennium BC. The main area for ossuary burial, though, was the coastal region. Here, particularly in the region of Tel Aviv, burials were made in a series of artificial caves. These were cut into the rock, and inside them ossuaries were arranged along benches and on the floors. Some were made of stone, but the majority were of clay. The most interesting appear, like this example, to represent houses, with pitched roofs, exposed beams, doors and small rectangular windows. The idea presumably was to provide houses for the dead.
The caves were entered by a vertical or diagonal shaft. Most have collapsed, and the ossuaries have been found in scattered fragments. The clay examples were fired at low temperatures and are therefore quite fragile.
J.N. Tubb, Canaanites (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)