What is it?
This impressive necklace from a Neolithic child burial is composed of over 2,500 beads, made from three varieties of stones, four types of mollusc shells, and – in the case of two beads – a rare example of amber. The rows of beads would have been connected at the back of the neck to a double-perforated stone pendant that acted as a fastener, while in the centre of the necklace at the front sat a delicately engraved mother-of-pearl ring. The string connecting these elements has long since been lost, but researchers estimate that the necklace would once have been around 30cm wide and 30cm long, comfortably fitting the upper body of the young individual with whom it was interred.
Where was it found, and when?
The necklace was discovered in 2018 during excavations of the ancient village of Ba’ja, in southern Jordan, which was occupied between 7400 BC and 6800 BC, during the Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period (LPPNB). The ornate object was found in a well-constructed cist grave belonging to an 8-year-old child, possibly a female. The necklace had fallen apart over time, but researchers analysed the morphology of the individual beads and their positions in the grave, which had been meticulously recorded during excavation, to develop several models estimating what the necklace may have looked like originally. They then used this information to reconstruct the object according to the most plausible scenario.
Why does it matter?
This elaborate necklace is one of the oldest and most impressive pieces of Neolithic jewellery currently known. The fact that it was buried with an 8-year-old child suggests that they were a very important or high-status individual. Such a discovery offers significant insight into the social system of Ba’ja and the place of children within early farming communities in the Levant, as well as the aesthetics and craft activities that they valued.
The necklace is believed to have been constructed in Ba’ja, but several of the materials came from elsewhere, including the two beads made of amber – the oldest examples currently known – and those of turquoise; neither of which are found in the greater Petra area. The style of some of the beads also points to far-reaching connections with other farming communities, in particular, several flat beads that mimic forms known from the North Levant. These more exotic influences are combined with local materials and traditions like the mother-of-pearl ring and the Tridacna shell beads, which are typical of LPPNB culture in the region, while the red beads that make up the bulk of the necklace are thought to have been made from local calcite and were most likely produced at Ba’ja as well. The necklace therefore reflects a complex web of social relations and practices, as well as being a stunning work of art in its own right.
SEE FOR YOURSELF
• The reconstructed necklace is on display in Petra Museum in southern Jordan.
• A paper about the work behind the reconstruction of the necklace has recently been published in the journal PLOS ONE (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0288075).
Text: Amy Brunskill / Image: Conception: H. Alarashi, Ba`ja N.P, Photo: A. Burkhardt