‘Ain Ghazal “Monumental” Figures: A Stylistic Analysis

Schmandt-Besserat, Denise
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Ex Oriente

This final part of the chapter devoted to the ‘Ain Ghazal plaster statuary excavated in 1983 and 1985 focuses on the style. The analysis includes: (1) a definition of the genre, (2) its evolution between 6750-6500 bc, (3) a comparison with other anthropomorphic representations at the site, (4) a comparison with similar contemporaneous assemblages in the Levant, (5) a review of the possible origin of the PPNB statuary. The paper also assesses the three common interpretations of the statues—ancestors, ghosts, or deities. Finally, the conclusion evaluates the significance of monumental plastic art.

‘Ain Ghazal is a Neolithic site located near Amman, Jordan. It was excavated between 1982 and 1998 by an American-Jordanian team directed by Gary O. Rollefson, Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wa. and Zeidan Kafafi, the University of Yarmouk at Irbid, Jordan. ‘Ain Ghazal was first settled about 7250 B.C., during the so-called Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) period. In a matter of a few centuries the village of stone houses had spread over 30 acres along the Zarqa River. During a prosperous period when the mixed economy increasingly relied on farming, ca. 7250-6000 B.C., ‘Ain Ghazal witnessed what can be termed an explosion of symbolism. The site was abandoned in the Yarmoukian period ca. 5000 BC. The volume deals with the uniquely rich and varied ‘Ain Ghazal assemblage of symbols including tokens of many shapes, animal and human figurines, modeled human skulls, plaster statues and, mural and floor paintings.