Photo courtesy of Gary O. Rollefson

Not only clay figurines, but also the distinguished dead, were buried beneath houses at Ain Ghazal. Under one house floor, excavators found the remains of 12 people. This house was occupied for 400 years, meaning that only one person in each generation was given such a privileged resting place—probably the family or clan leader.

When the dignitary died, a hole was cut through the floor of the house’s main living room and the corpse was placed in it. The grave was then covered with earth and the floor was patched with plaster. After the flesh decayed, the part of the pit above the skull was reopened and the skull removed, leaving behind only the lower jaw (visible in the photo). The pit was then refilled, and a new plaster floor was laid throughout the room.

As with the figurines, the removal of the head had a religious significance. The gruesome practice may have allowed the deceased’s power to be released, making room for another generation of household leadership.