Into the Darkness: Deep Caves in the Ancient Near East

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In this paper I will present the assemblage of pottery vessels and objects of luxury dated to the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods discovered in the Zarda Cave in Western Samaria, Israel. The context in which this assemblage was found is strongly reminiscent of other proto-historic depositions found in Israel. As determent of objects of value found in the deep and dark caves cannot be explained by means of burial offerings or regular hoards one most provide this remarkable phenomenon by a different theory. In this paper, I claim that these depositions were ritual in nature. They bear physical evidence for rituals performed by specially chosen members of the society, which we call today shamans. These caves were chosen due to their physical properties to become scenes for rituals of rites of passage in the course of which they experienced altered states of consciousness. In the course of time these caves have accumulated considerable social power becoming liminal monuments on the fringes of social landscapes in the local cultures. We may understand deep and dark caves as an element of pre-urban cosmology embedded into the local landscape, traces of which can be detected in much later traditions.

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