Human remains are found throughout the settlement of Monjukli Depe. They offer insights into the local practices involving the dead in the early Aeneolithic. During our recent excavations 15 graves were excavated, 13 of which are associated with the Aeneolithic settlement. One grave dates to the Middle Bronze Age.

As a rule, the Aeneolithic burials are comprised of single, primary inhumations in earthen pits. In two cases one or more infants were buried together with an adult. We could distinguish four different forms of graves: shallow pit graves; rudimentary shaft graves with a funnel or L-shaped profile; earthen pits with a ring of brick fragments; and interments without pits that rather appear to consist of a heap of debris. The deceased were buried in a flexed position, generally on the right side. The body and/or the grave pit were generally pigmented with ocher, and the body was often wrapped in a shroud of vegetal material, possibly a plaited mat. Grave goods are scarce, if present at all, and the array of grave goods used was not standardized. Burials of adults include ecofacts such as stones and animal bones or occasionally chipped stone blades, whereas burials of younger individuals contain on occasion beads or a token.


Plan der Bestattung MDB2. Eine ältere Frau war am Grund einer trichterförmigen Grube in der Schwelle zu Haus 7 beigesetzt. Ihr Körper war mit Ocker bestreut und man hatte ein Stück Ocker  vor ihren Mund gelegt. In der oberen Hälfte der Grabgrube befanden sich zerstreute Skelettteile von mehreren Kleinkindern.
Plan of burial MDB2. An elderly woman was interred at the base of a funnel-shaped pit, dug into a threshold in the former House 7. The body was sprinkled with ocher and an ocher chunk placed in front of her mouth. Disarticulated remains of several infants were found in the upper part of the burial pit.

Graves can be found in variable contexts in the settlement: over or under floors, in abandoned buildings, or below outdoor surfaces. Many of the burials appear to have been closely connected to the life-cycle of the houses, whether in the form of a foundation deposit or as part of a ritual closure of the house. It may also be that a death was the trigger for building activities.

Isolated human skeletal parts that occur in various settlement contexts can only rarely be connected to intentional practices, but they do point to a habitual engagement with human remains and possibly to an everyday, "profane" understanding of dead bodies.

Routine practices and observed deviations from them permit us to identify social tendencies and to estimate the degree of leeway for individuals and groups to modify burial practices for their individual members. Primary inhumation in an earthen pit, in a flexed position, and on the right side appear to be norms that, with only few exceptions, structured the way of disposing of the dead. The regular use of ocher shows that use of pigment was very much favored, but it does not appear to have been mandatory in all cases. In the choice of the place to inter the dead, the age of the deceased played a decisive role. Adult burials in occupied houses were avoided, whereas foundation deposits consisted exclusively of fetuses or new-born infants. Other practices associated with burials show, in contrast, greater variability, for example the direction of the body, the ocher-bearing material basis, the position of the arms, or the burial sequence. For each burial an array of idiosyncratic practices together with their meanings came into the picture.

The small number of burials shows that only a fraction of the population, probably 5-10%, were interred within the settlement. In other words, one can speak of a normative minority practice. The question remains open as to how the majority of the dead were treated and on which basis the choice was made of whom to bury within the village. For the most recent graves, it can be presumed that the village had already been abandoned and the site had gone through a change of function to turn it into a graveyard.


For further reading, see Rol in Pollock et al. (eds.) 2019.

Plan der Bestattung MDB8. Ein neugeborenes Kind war unmittelbar unter dem ersten Fußboden von Haus 2 bestattet und könnte als eine Art Gründungsdepot gedient haben. Im Kreis angeordnete Lehmziegeln bildeten die Oberkante der kleinen Grabgrube und waren teilweise durch Reste einer kleinen Lehmplattform überdeckt.
Plan of burial MDB8. A neonate was buried immediately below the first floor of House 2 and may well have served as a foundation deposit. The tiny burial pit was surrounded by a crest of mudbricks, above which remains of a small platform were recovered.
Sohle der Grabgrube von MDB11 nach Entfernen des Skeletts. Der Verstorbene, ein älterer Mann, war auf dem T-förmigen Pfeiler des bereits länger zugeschütteten Hauses 14 bestattet. Für die Bestattung war die Oberfläche des Pfeilers sorgfältig mit verschiedenen Lagen von weißem Verputz und rotem Ocker vorbereitet worden.
Base of grave pit of burial MDB11 after removal of the skeleton. The elderly individual was laid on top of the buttress of former House 14, which was carefully prepared for the burial by being coated with white plaster and red ocher.
Plan der Bestattung MDB9. Die gestörten Überreste eines Säuglings wurden unmittelbar nördlich von Haus 12 gefunden. Zahlreiche kleine Kalksteinperlen (in blau) befanden sich nahe des Unterkörpers, manche noch in einer Reihe. Wahrscheinlich waren sie Teil einer Kette, womit ein Leichentuch zusammengebunden oder Stoff verziert war.
Plan of burial MDB9. The disturbed remains of an infant skeleton were found just north of House 12. A large quantity of limestone beads (in blue) surrounded the body, some still aligned, suggesting that they were part of a string used to tie a shroud or to decorate a fabric.
Plan der Bestattung MDB10. Die junge Frau wurde im sogenannten Central Midden in einer L-förmigen Grube bestattet. Ihr Körper lag unmittelbar unter der Mauer eines früheren Gebäudes auf einer Ockerschicht. Ein unbearbeiteter Stein war zwischen ihr Kinn und ihre angewinkelte rechte Hand geklemmt.
Plan of burial MDB10. A young woman was laid on a bed of ocher at the bottom of an L-shaped burial pit within the Central Midden and below the wall of an earlier building. An unworked stone was wedged between her chin and her bent right hand.