BAR 37:06, Nov/Dec 2011
Ossuaries: Granaries for the Soul?
Why were the bones of these Chalcolithic people placed in ossuaries instead of simply buried? Ever since the first Chalcolithic ossuaries were discovered by Eleazar Sukenik in 1935, the meaning of these strange burial boxes has provided fertile ground for scholarly speculation. The prevailing scholarly opinion has been that the Chalcolithic people wished to bury their dead in house-shaped models. This, it was said, perpetuated the Neolithic practice of burying the deceased under the floors of houses. The idea behind this is perhaps similar to the beliefs of some African tribes, who “bring home” their dead chiefs and bury them in the village compound. There are no Chalcolithic dwellings that look at all like the ossuaries, however. So some scholars suggest that such homes must have been built of perishable materials. Others suggest that the four little legs found on some ossuaries represent the stilts of houses built in marshy areas like the Sharon plain—another far-fetched idea.