Photo courtesy of Gary O. Rollefson

In the seventh millennium B.C., Ain Ghazal was a thriving town, covering almost 40 acres at its peak. Besides the solidly constructed houses, more than 200 figurines, less than 3 inches tall and made of clay or plaster, have been discovered by excavators. These include the small dog shown here (upper left in the photo), which may have been a child’s toy. Some of these statuettes help us understand the social and religious concerns of Ain Ghazal’s citizens. Cattle figurines (upper right) were sometimes impressed with a cord around the neck, reflecting the domestication of livestock; others (lower left) were pierced with flint bladelets before being fired, which suggests that they were ritually “killed” before being buried beneath the floors of houses.

Of the 30 human figurines found, none had been buried with head and body intact. This practice, like the symbolic killing of cattle, suggests that these figurines were considered to have magical po-tency: The heads may have been removed from the bodies before burial (again, beneath house floors) to destroy or release the power they embodied. Other statuettes (lower right), with the distended abdomens and enlarged breasts of pregnant women, were probably talismans used to protect women through the dangerous cycle of pregnancy and birth.