Bedouin Animal Sacrifice Rituals Provide Clues to Archaeological Remains

Modern animal sacrifice rituals practiced by Bedouin communities in the Levant provide insight to the deposition of remains at archaeological sites in the Near East.

Miami, FL — (ReleaseWire) — 03/28/2012 –Harvard University educated archaeologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, Dr. Joel Klenck, conducted an ethnoarchaeological study of modern Bedouin sacrificial practices in the Levant to provide insight on the deposition of remains at ancient cult sites. Ethnoarchaeology comprises the analysis of modern behaviors and the remains left over from these activities. These studies are linked with a concept in archaeology called middle range theory where observations of natural processes or human behaviors are used to explain the deposition of archaeological finds. Deriving his theories from the sociologist Robert Merton, the American archaeologist Lewis Binford strongly encouraged middle range theory and completed ethnographic studies of Australian aborigines, Nunamiut Eskimo and other groups. Binford then compared his data to remains from archaeological sites.

Klenck remarks, “During my excavations and research in the Levant, I observed many foot bones of sheep, goats and cattle near ancient sanctuaries particularly at the Middle Bronze IIB/C period (1800-1550 B.C.) cult site at Tel Haror. At the same time, I learned that modern Bedouin communities sacrificed sheep, goats, cattle and an occasional camel to a “weli” or a revered person at their sepulchers.” Sponsored by a grant from the Joe Alon Museum, Klenck conducted an ethnoarchaeological study of Bedouin sacrificial rituals taking photographs and recordings of his observations. He then analyzed the animal bone remains strewn around the venerated areas after the rituals. An analysis was completed in 2012 of the butchery and preservation processes affecting these bones for a forthcoming manuscript. Klenck comments, “It was quickly apparent that the bones with meat on them such as upper limb bones, ribs and vertebrae were subjected to more intensive butchery processes, were boiled and eaten by the families and then targeted by dogs and other scavengers after the Bedouin left the cult areas. At two of the sacrificial areas, the Bedouin burned the bones. Without any hides covering them, the meat bones disintegrated in the fires.”The archaeologist notes that the foot bones were treated in a different manner. Klenck states, “Bedouin removed the hooves from the carcass at the beginning stages of butchery. The foot bones remained encased in animal skins and were discarded around the cult sites and not eaten. The sparse meat and marrow in these bones made them less attractive to scavengers and the skin surrounding these bones protected foot bones when Bedouin burned animal bones at the conclusion of the sacrificial meals.” The researcher then compared activities around the venerated tombs to the types of animal bones brought into Bedouin homes. The latter brought mostly meat bones into their homes while foot bones were removed in butcher shops at considerable distances from their domestic dwellings. Conversely, at the cult sites the entire butchery process was conducted near the venerated sepulcher. Klenck concludes, “The study of Bedouin sacrificial rituals provides archaeologists with valuable insight as to behaviors that might explain the enhanced preservation of foot bones at ancient cult sites in the Near East.”

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Modern Sacrifice Rituals in the Levant Reveal Diversity of Beliefs

Animal sacrifice rituals performed by Bedouin in the Levant reveal diversity of beliefs.

Miami, FL — (ReleaseWire) — 03/26/2012 –Harvard University educated anthropologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, Dr. Joel Klenck, conducted a study of Bedouin sacrificial rituals that reveal a diversity of beliefs in Arab populations in the Levant. Sponsored by a grant from the Joe Alon Museum, Klenck conducted a study of Bedouin sacrificial rituals completed in 2012 and featured in a forthcoming publication.

Rarely revealed by Western researchers, Arab pastoral nomads practice several types of sacrificial rituals other than the main feast of sacrifice or “Id al ‘Adha” that occurs the tenth day of the Hadj or “Dhul Hijjah” and is practiced by all observing Muslims. Three other rituals include sacrifices to spirits or “ginn”, ritual slaughters to ward off curses and bless newly married couples, and commemorations to deceased family members. Another type of sacrifice practiced by Bedouin in the Levant comprises sacrifices to a “weli” or revered person. Klenck states, “Bedouin sacrifice sheep, goats, cattle and occasionally a camel to a weli to redeem vows, incur healing, give thanks or insure fertility. Individuals performing the sacrifices believe the weli will act as a mediator between them and Allah to facilitate their requests.”Around 1771, Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, a cleric who traveled throughout Saudi Arabia and Iraq, began to influence the ruler of Dara’iya, Muhammad Ibn Sa’ud, whose tribe created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. The religious leader al-Wahhab formed a movement that denounced Bedouin believing in the special powers of a weli, punished individuals performing sacrificial rituals to these revered persons and largely eradicated these practices.

Although sacrifices to Bedouin saints are mostly forbidden in Saudi Arabia, these rituals continue to be practiced by Muslim pastoral nomads in the Levant and North Africa. Klenck states, “I was able to observe Bedouin venerating the tombs of Sheikh Abu-Hurreira, Ibrahim, Hussein, Falougie, Nebi Musa, and the adjacent sepulchers of Al-Azzam and Al-Nabari. The sheikhs’ tombs vary in their size, care and decoration. The tombs often feature sticks of wood mostly of palm with white or green cloth tied to each structure. According to the Bedouin, the white cloth represents peace and goodwill and is a beneficial omen for those petitioning Allah through a weli. The Bedouin consider the color green to be very holy as its significance stems from their traditions and because they allege the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad and the Kabbah in Saudi Arabia are covered with green tapestries. At the tombs the Bedouin often light candles and sometimes leave salt, sugar, matches, and coins in the sacred area.”

While Bedouin women perform prayers and light candles at the tombs, the men perform animal sacrifices near the sepulchers. At the tombs of Al-Azzam and Al-Nabari, the trees surrounding the sacred areas exhibit slash marks where Bedouin hang animal carcasses during butchery activities. After the sacrifice, the meat is boiled and everyone participates in the subsequent feast, especially the poor. Several Bedouin stated that in past centuries, individuals left valuable possessions at the sheikh’s tombs knowing that no Bedouin would dare steal from the tomb for fear of being cursed. Klenck concludes, “Studies of Bedouin animal sacrifices reveal a diversity of beliefs and are important in understanding cultures and ritual activities in the Levant.”

Archaeologists Discover Earliest Equestrian Bit

Archaeologists excavate a donkey burial from the Middle Bronze IIB period (1,750-1,650 B.C.) in the Levant and discover the earliest reported equestrian bit.

Miami, FL — (SBWIRE) — 03/19/2012 — Archaeologists led by Professor Eliezer Oren from Ben Gurion University excavated an equid burial at Tel-Haror, an archaeological site located in the Levant with strata dating to the Middle Bronze IIB Period (1,750-1,650 B.C.). Here, archaeologists retrieved the earliest metal equestrian bit. Dr. Joel Klenck, a Harvard University educated archaeologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, who presided over the analysis of the equid remains, states the burial is at the base of a dome-shaped structure. The southeastern wall of the burial edifice is overlaid by a thick mudbrick partition that surrounds a nearby temple complex. An archaeologist specializing in the analysis of faunal remains, Klenck notes the equid is a donkey as evidenced by foot bone measurements and traits on the grinding surfaces of its teeth. In 2011, the skeletal data from the donkey burial was compared to the material assemblage at the site in preparation for a forthcoming manuscript.

Archaeologists are increasingly finding remains of horses and donkeys in ancient Near Eastern contexts. The Vulture Stele, dating to the Early Dynastic III period (2,600-2,350 B.C.) in Mesopotamia, portrays an equid pulling a chariot-like vehicle. Various Mesopotamian manuscripts dating to this period mention the horse, donkey, hemione and hybrids such as the mule. From Sumeria, terracotta reliefs from the early second millennium B.C. show equids pulling a chariot and a human riding horseback. Hittite reliefs from the thirteenth century B.C. in modern Turkey show a larger species of equid perhaps a horse pulling a chariot with three soldiers in contrast to smaller equids in Egyptian murals presumably donkeys pulling chariots with only two men. Horse bones were found at Tell el-‘Ajjul in Israel in contexts dated to around 3,400 B.C. and in Turkey at Bogazkoy from the seventeenth century B.C. Archaeologists excavated donkey remains at Tell Brak in Mesopotamia in contexts dating between 2,580 and 2,455 B.C. Egyptian donkey burials dating to Middle Bronze II periods (2,000-1,550 B.C.) include those found at Inshas, Tell el-Farasha, Tell el-Maskhuta, and Tell el-Dab’a. From similar time periods in the Levant, archaeologists excavated donkeys at Tell el-‘Ajjul and Jericho.

Klenck notes the donkey burial at Tel Haror is special since this site provides the earliest direct evidence of a metal equestrian bit. These devices continue to be used today to control the movement of horses and other equids. He states, “Until the excavation at Tel Haror, archaeologists had only indirect evidence for the use of bits. An example of this indirect evidence is wear marks on equid teeth at the fortress of Buhen in contexts dating to the twentieth century B.C. At Tel Haror, we retrieved the actual metal device.” The archaeologist notes the ancient bit caused equids to turn due to the force of the device. Also, round plates on either end of the ancient bit exhibit triangular spikes that pressured the lips of the equid if the reins were pulled from one direction. Klenck concludes, “The excavation of the earliest reported metal bit at Tel Haror provides important data concerning ancient equestrian practices and methods of transportation in the Levant.”

Archaeologists Excavate Puppy and Raven Skeletons in Bronze Age Temple Complex in Levant

Archaeologists excavate puppy and corvid remains in a Middle Bronze Age temple complex in the Levant.

Miami, FL — (SBWIRE) — 03/19/2012 — Harvard University educated archaeologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, Dr. Joel Klenck, states that recent archaeological discoveries are revealing new aspects of cult practices of ancient inhabitants in the Levant. At Tel-Haror, a site with strata dating to the Middle Bronze II period (1,800-1,550 B.C.), archaeologists led by Professor Eliezer Oren from Ben Gurion University excavated a temple complex with a “migdal” or tower temple. Here, Klenck directed the removal and excavated the skeletal remains of dozens of juvenile dogs, ravens and crows in various states of articulation. In 2011, the animal bone data was compared to the unique material assemblage at the site that includes serpent figurines, the upraised arm of a statuette, and a pentagram design in preparation for a forthcoming manuscript. Many of the puppies, ravens and crows surrounded a square altar with a mudbrick base several meters away from the main sanctuary. The populations at Tel-Haror buried human shaped clay figurines, small ceramic bowls and other artifacts with these dog and corvid bones. Klenck states, “Several of the more complete animal skeletons showed the heads of these animals were severely twisted. This evidence suggests that the inhabitants broke the necks of some of these animals before interring them in the temple complex.”

The cultic significance of why puppies, ravens and crows were dispatched is less clear. Klenck notes several inscriptions that might shed light on the ideological motivations of the inhabitants at Tel Haror. In the Tale of Aqhat retrieved from Ugarit dating to the fourteenth century B.C. the tablet mentions the deity Baal splitting open vultures and interring them in the ground. Other texts dating from the nineteenth to first centuries B.C. mention the use of dogs in conjunction with healing deities such as Gula or Ninisina in Mesopotamia, Asclepius in Greece, Eshmun in Phoenicia and Resheph-Mukal in Phoenician Cyprus. Further, Hittite texts such as the Ritual of Tunnawi mention puppies in rituals for purification, healing and to ward off evil omens. In contexts from the tenth century B.C., dog burials were found in a ramp leading to a temple at Isin in ancient Babylonia.

Conversely, ancient Israelites considered dogs and corvids to be unclean and these animals were forbidden in their sacred areas. Also, a text in the Tanakh deplores rituals that involve the breaking of a dog necks. Klenck concludes, “Although we can only speculate on their ideological motives, the excavation of puppies and corvids from the Middle Bronze Age temple complex at Tel Haror adds new insight into the ritual activities of ancient Levantine populations.”