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Bedouin animal sacrifice rituals provide clues to archaeological remains
Foot bones from domesticated sheep close to the tomb of Al-Azzam. Photo: Paleontological Research Corporation.
MIAMI, FL.- Harvard University educated archaeologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, Dr. Joel Klenck, conducted an ethnoarchaeological study of modern Bedouin sacrificial practices in the Levant to provide insight on the deposition of remains at ancient cult sites. Ethnoarchaeology comprises the analysis of modern behaviors and the remains left over from these activities. These studies are linked with a concept in archaeology called middle range theory where observations of natural processes or human behaviors are used to explain the deposition of archaeological finds. Deriving his theories from the sociologist Robert Merton, the American archaeologist Lewis Binford strongly encouraged middle range theory and completed ethnographic studies of Australian aborigines, Nunamiut Eskimo and other groups. Binford then compared his data to remains from archaeological sites.

Klenck remarks, “During my excavations and research in the Levant, I observed many foot bones of sheep, goats and cattle near ancient sanctuaries particularly at the Middle Bronze IIB/C period (1800-1550 B.C.) cult site at Tel Haror. At the same time, I learned that modern Bedouin communities sacrificed sheep, goats, cattle and an occasional camel to a “weli” or a revered person at their sepulchers.” Sponsored by a grant from the Joe Alon Museum, Klenck conducted an ethnoarchaeological study of Bedouin sacrificial rituals taking photographs and recordings of his observations. He then analyzed the animal bone remains strewn around the venerated areas after the rituals. An analysis was completed in 2012 of the butchery and preservation processes affecting these bones for a forthcoming manuscript. Klenck comments, “It was quickly apparent that the bones with meat on them such as upper limb bones, ribs and vertebrae were subjected to more intensive butchery processes, were boiled and eaten by the families and then targeted by dogs and other scavengers after the Bedouin left the cult areas. At two of the sacrificial areas, the Bedouin burned the bones. Without any hides covering them, the meat bones disintegrated in the fires.”

The archaeologist notes that the foot bones were treated in a different manner. Klenck states, “Bedouin removed the hooves from the carcass at the beginning stages of butchery. The foot bones remained encased in animal skins and were discarded around the cult sites and not eaten. The sparse meat and marrow in these bones made them less attractive to scavengers and the skin surrounding these bones protected foot bones when Bedouin burned animal bones at the conclusion of the sacrificial meals.” The researcher then compared activities around the venerated tombs to the types of animal bones brought into Bedouin homes. The latter brought mostly meat bones into their homes while foot bones were removed in butcher shops at considerable distances from their domestic dwellings. Conversely, at the cult sites the entire butchery process was conducted near the venerated sepulcher. Klenck concludes, “The study of Bedouin sacrificial rituals provides archaeologists with valuable insight as to behaviors that might explain the enhanced preservation of foot bones at ancient cult sites in the Near East.”

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