Elaborate burial sites can provide insight to the development of socio-political hierarchies in early human communities, according to a study released August 28, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by an international team of archaeologists, anthropologists and neuroscientists of the Ba'ja Neolithic Project hosted at the Free University of Berlin in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. The interdisciplinary investigations on the 9000-year-old extraordinary grave studied here gives new evidence on emerging leadership in the first farming villages of the Near East.

As early farming communities gave rise to larger, more complex sedentary societies, new social hierarchies arose, presenting opportunities for individual people to achieve positions of importance. The authors cite two archetypal "pathways to power" such individuals might follow: one self-aggrandizing and often autocratic, and the other more group-oriented and egalitarian. But how these "pathways" were expressed in early cultures remains unclear.

This study focused on a single burial in the Ba'ja settlement of southern Jordan, dating between 7,500-6,900 BC, during the Late Pre-Pottery B Period. The elaborate construction of this grave and sophistication of associated symbolic objects suggest the deceased was a person of importance in the ancient society. The authors suggest that the presence of exotic items in the grave indicate a person who achieved individual prestige by access to trade networks, while the proximity of the grave to other less elaborate graves indicates that they were nonetheless considered close in status to the broader community, not neatly fitting either archetype of a powerful individual.

    Fig 7. Dorsal side of the left femur showing destruction by rodent gnawing.
    Fig 7. Dorsal side of the left femur showing destruction by rodent gnawing. © JG

    Marion Benz, Julia Gresky, Denis Štefanisko, Hala Alarashi, Corina Knipper, Christoph Purschwitz, Joachim Bauer, Hans Georg K. Gebel. Burying power: New insights into incipient leadership in the Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic from an outstanding burial at Baʻja, southern JordanPLOS ONE, 2019; 14 (8): e0221171

    DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0221171

      In 2016, an extraordinary burial of a young adult individual was discovered at the Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (LPPNB, 7,500–6,900 BCE) settlement of Baʻja in southern Jordan. This burial has exceptional grave goods and an elaborate grave construction. It suggests discussing anew reconstructions of early Neolithic social structures. In this article, we will summarize former theories on the emergence of leadership and hierarchies and present a multivariate model according to which anthropological and archaeological data of the burial will be analyzed. In conclusion, we surmise that early Neolithic hierarchization in southern Jordan was based on corporate pathways to power rather than self-interested aggrandizers. However, some aspects of the burial point to regional exchange networks of prestige goods, a trait considered characteristic of network based leadership. In line with anthropological and sociological research, we argue that pathways to power should be considered as relational processes that can be understood only when comparing traits of the outstanding person to her/his social environment.