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Burial sites are said to offer insight ‘into the lives of our ancient ancestors and provide clues into how societies formed and evolved through the ages’. A recent study, which involved an investigation of a 9000-year-old grave site, has found new evidence on the development of socio-political hierarchies in early human communities. Specifically, its researchers suggest that the findings shed insight into the first farming villages of the Near East.

The study focused on a single burial site located in the Ba'ja settlement of southern Jordan. The elaborate construction of this grave and sophistication of associated symbolic objects found with the body, may suggest that the deceased was likely to have been a person of importance in the ancient society. In particular, the presence of exotic items in the grave are said to indicate that the individual was a person who achieved societal prestige by access to trade networks. However, the proximity of the grave to other less elaborate graves, interestingly indicates that although the person was important, they were nonetheless considered close in status to the broader community.

The researchers go on to propose that this research provides insight into cultural views toward leadership and social hierarchy in early cultures. They suggest ‘that leadership can be understood only by studying the social contexts and the pathways to power[..]’, adding that ‘studying rich tombs to interpret social structures has been done before, but [their] new approach emphasizes the social environments of leadership’.

Students applying for Archaeology and Anthropology can reflect on how such research may help in piecing together the development and evolution of hierarchical systems throughout time, particularly with regard to the dynamic roles of power and leadership within the social contexts of a given society.

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