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Transformations in an early agricultural society: Feasting in the southern

Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic
Katheryn C. Twiss
Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, SBS S-501, Mailcode 4364, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4364, USA
a r t i c l e i n f o
Article history:
Received 4 April 2007
Revision received 24 June 2008
Available online 7 September 2008
Early agriculture
Southwest Asia
Pre-Pottery Neolithic
Social integration
Social complexity
a b s t r a c t
Feasting is a powerful and transformative phenomenon. Societies are both integrated and differentiated
through feasting; identities are both enacted and altered; and ideologies are inculcated. This paper uses
ethnographic data to establish criteria for the archaeological recognition of prehistoric feasting. These cri-
teria are then used to assess the changing evidence for feasting across the southern Levantine Pre-Pottery
Neolithic (ca. 10,200–7500 BP/9700–6250 cal BC), with the aim of shedding light on changes in social
organization across the transition to agriculture.
During most of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, the extent and scale of feasting expanded as sociopolitical
complexity increased. Towards the end of the period, however, populations dispersed and feasting prob-
ably declined. Feasts were simultaneously integrative and competitive, ameliorating scalar stress even as
they offered opportunities for individual or household competition. Feasts may also have played a key
role in conferring ideological prominence on Neolithic cattle, and perhaps even contributed to their adop-
tion as domesticates.
Ó 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Feasting is a universal human phenomenon. It is powerful and
often transformative; through feasting, social identities are both
enacted and altered, political competitions are undertaken, and
ideologies are inculcated. Feasting can play a key role in construct-
ing and validating social norms by valorizing innovative materials,
concepts, and practices (Dietler, 2007). It therefore contributes sig-
nificantly both to negotiation and maintenance of the status quo
and to processes of profound social change. It is also archaeologi-
cally identifiable, as ethnographic data indicate that certain feast-
ing behaviors are both widespread and reflected in the material
Feasting is widely thought to have been important in early
farming societies. It has even been proposed that feasting pro-
pelled the development of food production (Hayden, 1990, 1992).
However, there has been little rigorous examination of the scale
and prominence of feasting among early agriculturalists. This is
true even for such a well-studied area of agricultural origins as
Southwest Asia: most mentions of southern Levantine Pre-Pottery
Neolithic (ca. 10,200–7500 BP/9700–6250 cal BC) feasting are brief,
peripheral, and, if based on data rather than assumed, rely on iso-
lated pieces of evidence from a single site (e.g., Banning, 1998;
but see also Goring-Morris and Horwitz, 2007; Goring-Morris,
This paper assesses the evidence for feasting in the Pre-Pottery
Neolithic and explores how feasting may have contributed to both
preserving and altering early agriculturalists’ socioeconomic struc-
tures and ideology. It begins with a discussion of feasting and its
social implications. It then uses ethnohistoric and ethnographic
data to establish a set of clearly defined criteria for the archaeolog-
ical identification of prehistoric feasting. These are applied to data
from across the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, revealing that feasting in-
creased as food production intensified and the scale of society ex-
panded. Feasting then probably declined as populations dispersed.
Discussion of these results focuses on issues of social integration,
competition, symbolism, and domestication.
The sociocultural importance of feasting has become a popular
topic in archaeology, addressed from a variety of theoretical and
methodological perspectives and in a range of areas and time peri-
ods (Blitz, 1993; Bray, 2003; Dietler, 1990; Dietler and Hayden,
2001b; Gumerman, 1997; Hamilakis and Konsolaki, 2004; Hayden,
1990; Helwing, 2003; Jennings et al., 2005; Lewis, 2007; Lev-Tov
and McGeough, 2007; Mills, 2007; Pappa et al., 2004; Pauketat
et al., 2002; Rosenswig, 2007; Spielmann, 2002; Turkon, 2004;
Wright, 2004). The proliferating archaeological literature is
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Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442
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Citado no texto "Consumo ritual, consumo no ritual" "Vasilhames usados para servir comidas e bebidas nessas ocasiões especiais são em geral mais elaborados, possuem
estilos decorativos diferenciados e muitas vezes são importados" (p.89)
bolstered by rich ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological documen-
tation of feasting and its material correlates (Adams, 2005; Arthur,
2003; Clarke, 2001; Dietler and Herbich, 2001; Kahn, 1986; Kirch,
2001; Lee, 1993; Murphy, 1986; Oliver, 1989; Perodie, 2001;
Weismantel, 1991; Wiessner, 2001).
These studies indicate that feasting is a ubiquitous as well as a
tremendously variable phenomenon, involving groups as small as
two or as large as thousands, quotidian foods or delicacies, and
simple consumption or elaborate and diverse performances and
displays. This breadth of practice makes feasting difficult to define,
and anthropologists and archaeologists have used a variety of char-
acterizations (e.g., Dietler, 2001; Kirch, 2001; Perodie, 2001;
Wiessner, 2001). This paper defines feasts as occasions consciously
distinguished from everyday meals, often by a greater number of
participants and more food and drink. Feasts may also be marked
by the consumption of unusual foods and/or their modes of prep-
aration and discard, the temporal or locational framing of the
event, the material culture used, or the performances undertaken.
It recognizes, however, that feasts are dialectically related to every-
day meals, both in form and in meaning, and are not isolated from
quotidian social realities (Twiss, 2007a). A metonymic relationship
commonly exists between feasts and daily meals, with the feast
recapitulating and expanding upon the structure and contents of
the domestic meal and thus drawing feast participants into a world
of food symbolism that extends far beyond the event at hand
(Douglas, 1975).
Anthropologists commonly differentiate between types of
feasts on the basis of their (perceived) primary social function.
Hayden (1995b, 2001), Kahn (1986), and Perodie (2001) argue that
some feasts are designed to promote cooperation and downplay
social differences, while others promote the feast-givers socially,
politically, or economically in relation to other members of society.
Yet feasts are inherently polysemic, simultaneously arenas for so-
cial competition and social integration (Dietler, 2001). Explicitly
competitive feasts bind participants together through shared con-
sumption, mutual participation in culturally meaningful events,
and the creation and maintenance of alliances (Clarke, 2001;
Junker, 2001; Kahn, 1986). Meanwhile, ‘‘feasts conceived sincerely
by the participants as harmonious celebrations of community
identity are simultaneously arenas for manipulation and the acqui-
sition of prestige, social credit, and the various forms of influ-
ence. . . that social capital entails” (Dietler, 2001, p. 77). One
motive or another is often forefronted, but multiple functions are
commonly served (Clarke, 2001).
Feasts articulate and inculcate existing social categories, such as
status, power, gender, and age (Dietler and Hayden, 2001a). This
may involve spatial, temporal, quantitative or qualitative (via dif-
ferences in comestibles or serving vessels) segregation of groups
during eating, or it may involve differential behavioral expecta-
tions for members of different social categories (Dietler and Hay-
den, 2001a). In Ming China, women were customarily excluded
from the court banquets at which important foreign visitors were
entertained, but parallel dinners for ambassadors’ wives and other
female guests were held by the Empress at the Palace of Female
Tranquility (Goody, 1983, p. 110). At important Luo feasts in Kenya,
senior men gather in special shaded areas to eat and drink unfil-
tered beer out of a special large pot; the bringing of a personal
beer-drinking straw to such feasts is a marker of male seniority
(Dietler and Hayden, 2001a). Among the Akha of Thailand, young
men do most of the cooking for feasts, while older men serve the
food; male and female participants sit separately; and elders sit
on a raised sleeping platform (Clarke, 2001).
Finally, feasts play important roles in processes of social change.
They are ‘‘central arenas of social action that have had a profound
impact on the course of historical transformations” (Dietler and
Hayden, 2001a, p. 16). This potency entails a degree of risk. Among
the Enga of Papua New Guinea, for example, competitive feasting
involving pigs in the early twentieth century led to massive infla-
tion in pig production. In the area’s relatively infertile west, this
led to severe conflicts over pigs and the land to support them:
Wiessner (2001, p. 127) writes that ‘‘so dire were the circum-
stances that it was said that the lives of men seemed to have little
more value than the lives of pigs.” Moreover, the transformative
power of feasting extends beyond its economic, ecological, and
political impacts (Hayden, 1990; Perodie, 2001) to conceptions of
value, tastes, and ideology (Dietler, 2007; Wiessner, 2001). In the
more fertile east, the accelerating Enga focus on (there, readily
available) pigs enabled all able-bodied people to enter the feasting
competition. This lessening of social boundaries inspired members
of the existing elite to elevate the value of more inaccessible pearl
shells. The west, however, retained its focus on pigs, which, like the
pearl shells, had been valorized through their use in feasts (Wiess-
ner, 2001).
Recognizing feasting in the archaeological record
Ethnographic data indicate that despite the cross-cultural var-
iability of feasts, certain behaviors and attributes are frequently
associated with feasting. Most of these feasting attributes affect
the material record to some extent, although some do so consid-
erably more than others. Table 1 summarizes the feasting behav-
iors that (a) appear commonly in ethnographic and ethnohistoric
accounts of hunting–gathering and subsistence agricultural soci-
eties, and (b) have sufficient impact on the material record for
archaeologists to have a reasonable expectation of identifying
them. These material signatures allow identification of past
feasting practices in the absence of textual records or clearly
interpretable artistic depictions of feasting (cf. Schmandt-Bess-
erat, 2001).
Food and drink
One of the most common ethnographic attributes of feasting
is the consumption of copious quantities of food and/or drink
(e.g., Arthur, 2003, pp. 523–524; Clarke, 2001; de Garine, 1996;
DeBoer, 2001; Dietler, 2001; Hayden, 2001; Jennings et al.,
2005; Kahn, 1986; Leach, 2003; Mills, 2007; Oliver, 1989; Potter,
1997, 2000, p. 477; Spielmann, 2002; Wiessner, 2001). This mass
consumption has several common material correlates. One is
simply the primary deposition of unusually large collections of
food remains (‘‘feasting middens”). Not all feasts produce such
middens: the Enga of Papua New Guinea, for example, usually
celebrate secular feasts with the shared consumption of only
vegetable foods, as participants take home most of the meat
and associated bones (Wiessner, 2001, pp. 126, 128). However,
atypically large collections of food remains are likely remnants
of feasting. In addition, the sheer quantity of refuse generated
by feasts occasionally inspires the use of special discard prac-
tices. The Akha of southeast Asia, for example, light garbage fires
only after feasts and mass plant processing events (Clarke, 2001,
p. 161). Feasting refuse may therefore also be distinguished by
unusual processing.
Many feasts require so much food and/or drink that surpluses
must be stored up well in advance, for months or even years.
Storage facilities (including animal pens, for storage on-the-hoof)
are therefore another common material expression of feasting.
Tangan men in Papua New Guinea begin raising pigs for distri-
bution at feasts approximately four years before the feasts are
to be held; yam gardens ‘‘the size of football fields” are planted
as well (Foster, 1990). The typical ani shrëati feast of the Amazo-
nian Conibo–Shipibo requires between 15 and 20 beer storage
jars, each of which holds on average 100 liters of beer (DeBoer,
K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442 419
Table 1
Common ethnographically or ethnohistorically documented aspects of feasting, and their material correlates
Common aspect of
Ethnographic/ethnohistoric examples Material Correlates References
Consumption of large
quantities of food
and/or drink
Enga: for larger feasts, 300–500 pigs slaughtered Unusually large and dense
concentrations of food
Clarke (2001, p. 156), Potter (2000, p. 477), Wiessner
(2001, p. 117); see also de Garine (1996), Dietler (2001, pp.
81–82), Oliver (1989, p. 291), Spielmann (2002)
Akha: food served at a feast may be ‘‘truly excessive in
terms of the amount and variety of food when compared
to daily fare”
Puebloans: communal rabbit hunts held specifically to
provide food for feasts
Akha: normal food refuse is unsystematically discarded;
feasting remains are burned
Special disposal practices to
cope with tremendous
quantities of trash
Clarke (2001, p. 161)
Conibo–Shipibo: typical ani shrëati feast requires 15–
20 P20-gallon (80 liter) beer-storage jars; numerous
animals penned and fattened in preparation
Facilities for collecting food
(storage bins/pits/
containers, granaries,
animal pens)
DeBoer (2001, pp. 218, 228), Kahn (1986, p. 82), Spielmann
(2002); see also Jennings et al. (2005), Rappaport (1968)
Australia: labor-intensive drainage systems constructed
to capture eels
Wamirans: before a feast, hosts build a shelter to store
their food
Hmong: very large cooking & serving vessels used to
cook for large feasts
Atypically large or
numerous food
Arthur (2003, pp. 523–524), Clarke (2001, p. 157), Hayden
(2001), Oliver (1989), Wiessner (2001, p. 116); see also
Mills (2007), Watson (1982)
Akha: multiple large cooking & serving vessels required
for a feast, ‘‘far in excess” of quotidian norms
Gamo: feast-host houses average more than twice as
many beer-fermenting vessels as non-host houses
Hmong: multiple hearths used to cook for large feasts Numerous or large cooking
facilities (hearths, ovens)
Clarke (2001, p. 161), Hayden (2001), Wiessner (2001, p.
Enga: large earth ovens near ceremonial sites
Akha: regular feast hosts often have large kitchens with
extra hearths; hearth areas are often expanded for
feasts; temporary or extra kitchens are sometimes built
Consumption of an
unusually wide
variety of foods
Akha: feasts commonly include 5–10 dishes; daily meals
only 2–3
An unusual variety of
cooking or serving
Clarke (2001, p. 160), Powers and Powers (1984, p. 68)
Oglala: memorial feasts involve a ‘‘luxurious array of
food varieties”
Consumption of
rarely-eaten and/
or symbolically
important foods
Tana Toraja and West Sumba: pigs and water buffaloes
only slaughtered for feasts
Remains of rare or labor-
intensive species or
Adams (2005), Bradley (1923, p. 260), Clarke (2001, p.
151), Dietler (2001, pp. 89, 95), Hayden (2003, p. 460),
Kirch (2001), Leach (2003), Oliver (1989, p. 291); see also
Watson (1982)
Akha: daily diet is mostly plant-based, but all feasts
include meat. Other delicacies also often served: candy,
Blackfeet: buffalo bone marrow generally eaten only at
Oceania: prized or ritually marked foods served at feasts
(e.g., pig, dog, fowl, certain fish species, fermented
breadfruit, human flesh)
Luo: beer and beef are reserved for feasts
Tribal Southeast Asia: ‘‘domestic animals are used
primarily, or, more commonly, exclusively for special
occasions, notably feasts”
Culinary emphasis on
large animals
Enga: extensive faunal remains left at sacred feasting
Remains of large animals,
wild or domestic
de Garine (1996, p. 202), Ertug˘-Yaras (1997, p. 355),
Simoons and Simoons (1968, pp. 150–153, 171), Wiessner
(2001, p. 129)
Chin: Feasts of Merit require pig, cattle and buffalo or
mithan sacrifices. Also, when a large game animal is
killed the hunter must host a feast
Massa: funeral feasts require cattle
420 K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442
Table 1 (continued)
Common aspect
of feasting
Ethnographic/ethnohistoric examples Material Correlates References
Consumption of
Southeast Asia: domesticated animals killed only for feasts Remains of domesticated
Ertug˘-Yaras (1997, pp. 314–317, 355), Hayden (2003),
a (2004)
Kizilkaya: healthy cattle and sheep killed only for feasts
Rif Mountains: domesticates kept mainly for secondary
products, their meat consumed only on special
Consumption of
Luo: large quantities of beer are consumed at feasts; at
important feasts it is drunk out of a pot >1 m tall and 1 m in
Conibo–Shipibo: the major fiesta called the ‘‘ani shrëati”–
‘‘big drinking.” ‘‘Prodigious quantities” of beer and liquor
served; ‘‘drink, not food, fueled the ani shrëati”
Fiji: big events demand kava drinking; hosting one without
offering it is ‘‘unthinkable”
Inka (and modern central Andes): large quantities of chicha
(maize beer) required for feasts
Brewing equipment
Elaborate drinking
Residues of alcoholic
Depictions of alcoholic
DeBoer (2001, pp. 216, 223), Dietler (2001, pp. 89, 96–98.
Figs. 3.1–3.3), Hastorf and Johannessen (1993), Tomlinson
(2006, p. 10); see also Arthur (2003), Clarke (2001), de
Garine (1996), Sara-Lafosse (2007), Simoons and Simoons
(1968), Zimon (1992)
Use of special
Special sites
Enga: special sites constructed for sacred feasts. Within
these sites, participants had differential access to various
areas and structures
Non-habitation sites Adams (2005), Clarke (2001), Kirch (2001, p. 175),
Wiessner (2001, p. 129); see also Brown (2001, p. 382)
Special struc-
tures or
spaces within
Marquesas: construction of dedicated feast places (tohua)–
dance plazas surrounded by platforms, with associated
cooking facilities
Unusually large,
numerous, or elaborate
facilities; atypically
located facilities
Special loca-
tions within
structures or
Tana Toraja and West Sumba: large feasts usually held at
corporate ancestral houses, which are atypically decorated
Unusually elaborate
spaces inside structures
Akha: only elite lineage members sit on indoor platforms;
all other eaters sit outside or at nearby houses
Public rituals Enga: sacred stones and figure brought to feasting site, ‘‘fed”
while the humans also ate, made to have sex with other
artifacts, placed back to rest
Ritual items large enough to
be visible from a distance
Wiessner (2001, pp. 132–133)
Akha: feasting food offered to the dead at funerals, and
some animals buried with the deceased
Food remains associated
with graves/human remains
Clarke (2001, p. 162), Wiessner (2001, p. 133); see also
Zimon (1992)
Enga: Human skulls deposited at cult site where feasting
took place; during Kepele feast, accumulated skulls
ceremonially cremated along with plant foods and
pig fat
Tikopia: ritual feasting spatially associated with temples Spatial association of food
remains/cooking facilities
with ritual sites or
Brown (2001, p. 382), Kirch (2001, p. 172)
Chorti Maya: feast foods prepared at and dispensed from
ceremonial houses where ritual paraphernalia was stored
dancing, music,
oratory, etc.)
Marquesas: feasts typically accompanied by elaborate
singing and dancing
Costume elements DeBoer (2001, p. 220), Dietler (2001, p. 96), Kirch (2001, p.
174); see also Birket-Smith (1953)
Conibo–Shipibo: ani shrëati feast featured music, dancing,
ritualized conflicts, & an archery contest
Musical instruments
Luo: funeral feasts involve dancing, singing, speeches,
recitations, and cattle parades
Displays of
wealth and/or
Northwest Coast: food and gifts lavishly distributed at some
feasts (e.g., Kwakiutl: 2,000 blankets distributed at one
funeral feast)
Presence, relative abun-
dance of prestige items
Boas (1966), Junker (2001, p. 277), Leach (2003, Fig. 2),
Métraux (1940, p. 343), Perodie (2001); see also DeBoer
(2001), Powers and Powers (1984), Rappaport (1968),
Simoons and Simoons (1968, pp. 173, 176), Wiessner
of wealth or
Prehispanic Philippines: display of valuables, lavishness of
presentation a key factor in determining amount of prestige
a host would accrue
Special display facilities
(continued on next page)
K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442 421
2001). It should be noted, however, that the absence of storage
facilities does not preclude the hosting of even very large feasts.
Living resources in particular may be stored offsite. Domesticates
may be kept alive in the fields or in herds, and wild resources
may be ‘‘stored” via the tabooing of fishing, hunting, and gather-
ing areas, allowing reserves to build up prior to an event (Spiel-
mann, 2002).
Large quantities of food and drink must of course be pre-
pared, so large-scale and/or numerous cooking equipment and
facilities are also cross-culturally correlated with feasting. The
same is true of serving vessels. Ethnographic examples include
Hmong feasts provisioned using oversized vessels and multiple
hearths; Maya, Akha, and Gamo feast-host households stocked
with multiple and unusually large pots, woks, gourds, grind-
stones and/or cups; and Enga feasts facilitated by the construc-
tion of not only large earth ovens but also special pools for
holding the blood, entrails, and intestines of up to 500 pigs
(Arthur, 2003; Clarke, 2001; Hayden, 2001; Wiessner, 2001). As
Clarke (2001, pp. 157–158) reports, ‘‘the relative size and num-
ber of cooking and serving vessels is a strong archaeological
indicator of feasting activity.” The size and number of food prep-
aration facilities is as well.
Some feasts are marked by consumption of an unusual variety
of foods. Among the Akha, for example, feasts commonly include
five to ten dishes, whereas normal meals comprise only two or
three (Clarke, 2001). If different feast foods are prepared or served
using different vessels or equipment, then feasts are characterized
materially by unusually varied collections of cooking and/or serv-
ing gear. However, if dishes are cooked or plated together (e.g.,
Watson, 1982), then this marker does not exist. To identify feast-
ing reliably, it is important that the multiplicity of vessel forms be
found in association with each other: the range of cooking or
serving gear across a total site assemblage is related to feasting
behavior, but it is more strongly determined by archaeological
choices about recovery, sampling, and the scale of excavations
at the site.
Another common feasting attribute is the consumption of
rarely-eaten and frequently symbolically important foods. In Asia,
Akha feasts inevitably include meat, whereas their daily meals are
mostly plant-based; in Africa, the Luo reserve beer and beef for
feasts (Clarke, 2001, p. 151; Dietler, 2001, pp. 89, 95). In Polynesia,
Marquesan feasts were qualitatively distinguished from ordinary
meals by the inclusion of special puddings, prestige flesh foods,
and, in some cases, human flesh (Kirch, 2001, p. 175), while in
North America, the Oglala consumed dogs (prominent in Oglala
cosmology) only at ritualized feasts (Powers and Powers, 1984).
Tangans in Papua New Guinea view pork-eating as ‘‘the ideal form
of eating food,” but eat pigs only at feasts, ‘‘never [slaughtering
them] simply to supply a meal” (Foster, 1990, p. 441). Many of
these distinctive feasting foods are costly to produce, being la-
bor-intensive, ecologically problematic, imported, or otherwise dif-
ficult to acquire (Foster, 1990; Hayden, 1990, 2003; Wiessner,
Table 1 (continued)
Common aspect
of feasting
Ethnographic/ethnohistoric examples Material Correlates References
Food wastage Polynesia: many feasts involved huge displays of food piled on
conical towers or stages
wealth or prestige items
Kwakiutl: heavy property destruction at competitive feasts:
canoes, blankets, and grease destroyed, slaves killed
Discard of edible mate-
rial, articulated joints,
minimally processed
Use of special
Puebloans: distinctive large stew bowls were prominently
located during feasts, constantly refilled, and given to
departing guests. Prominently decorated bowls are depicted as
icons of ceremonialism in Pueblo IV (1275–1600 CE) murals
Unusual quality, decoration
or materials of serving
Bowser and Patton (2004, pp. 176–177), Junker
(2001, p. 289), Mills (2007); see also Clarke (2001),
DeBoer (2001), Dietler (2001)
Conambo: vessels used in public-viewing contexts have larger,
more widely visible external designs
Prehispanic Philippines: trade porcelains and certain locally made
decorated ceramics were ‘‘ritual feasting wares [whose possession
was] essential to a kin group’s ability to participate in the feasting
display of
Tana Toraja and West Sumba: Water buffalo horns and carvings of
same represent large feasts, as these are the only occasions when
these animals are slaughtered (same true of pigs)
Artistic representations of
food taxa
Adams (2005)
Akha: feast hosts very often save and display water buffalo horns
and pig mandibles
Trophy bones Adams (2005), Clarke (2001, p. 160), Hayden
(2001, pp. 55–56), Simoons and Simoons (1968,
p. 154), Wiessner (2001, pp. 131–2)
Tana Toraja and West Sumba: remains of pigs consumed at feasts
displayed at ancestral houses
Enga sacred feasts: pig skulls displayed in major cult house
Chin: skulls of feast animals displayed on feast holder’s verandas
Naga: posts or stones erected at feasts Memorial constructs Simoons and Simoons (1968, pp. 111–113)
Not all feasts include many of these signatures. Textual records and scenic art are excluded in the absence of interpretable southern Levantine PPN data (contra
Garfinkel, 2003). Ethnographic/ethnohistoric groups mentioned are the: Akha (subsistence agriculturalists, northern mountainous Southeast Asia); Blackfoot Indians
(hunter–gatherers, North American Plains); Conambo (horticulturalists and hunter–gatherers, Amazonia); Conibo–Shipibo (Amazonia); Enga (horticulturalists, highland
Papua New Guinea); Gamo (subsistence agriculturalists, Ethiopia); Kizilkaya (agricultural village, central Anatolia); Koma (agriculturalists, Cameroon); Luo (subsistence
agriculturalists, Kenya); Marquesan Islanders (multitribal ‘‘open” chiefdoms; Polynesia); Puebloans (agriculturalists, historic American Southwest); Rif Mountains (agro-
pastoralists, Morocco); Tana Toraja and West Sumba (subsistence agriculturalists, the eastern Indonesian archipelago); Wamirans (horticulturalists & fishers, Papua New
422 K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442
2001). Remains of rare or expensive foods are therefore a good
material signature of feasting.
Meat is frequently the dominant food at feasts, and large ani-
mals in particular are commonly culinary centerpieces at feasts
(Clarke, 2001; de Garine, 1996, pp. 208, 214; Fiddes, 1991; Gramly,
1975; Hayden, 2003; Junker, 2001; Kelly, 2001; Knight, 2001; Rap-
paport, 1968; Simoons and Simoons, 1968; Stevenson, 1937; Verb-
icky-Todd, 1984; Watson, 1982). Their suitability as feasting food
is multifaceted, which explains why many feasts specifically re-
quire their inclusion (e.g., de Garine, 1996; Simoons and Simoons,
Large animals supply copious amounts of meat, which is an
inherently prized food in most traditional hunter–gatherer and
small-scale agricultural societies (Hayden, 2003; Kent, 1989;
Leach, 2003; Speth and Spielmann, 1983). Furthermore, ceremonial
distribution of this valued good is an effective strategy for convert-
ing material storage (which is only good for a set period of time) to
social storage (which lasts longer). To quote Schneider (1957, p.
291), discussing the slaughter of a steer by an East African pastoral-
ist group.
‘‘communal sharing of meat is probably inevitable; although
Pakot know how to. . . preserve meat for long periods without
refrigeration, this does not seem an efficient method of preserv-
ing a whole steer. They complain that meat left too long in the
house becomes infested with vermin and that it does not taste
as good as fresh meat. . . .The problem of how to utilize beef
most efficiently is solved by offering it to the community in a
ceremonial setting. This provides the most efficient distribu-
tion. . ., makes possible a good supply for the present, since
the giver gets one leg and more to take home, and insures that
meat will be forthcoming in the future by placing neighbors
under an obligation to return the gift.”
Large animals are also particularly effective prestige enhancers.
Large domesticates such as cattle are commonly valued more than
smaller stock, and tend to be owned only by relatively wealthy
households (Moreno-Garcı
a, 2004; Russell, 1998; Simoons and
Simoons, 1968). Their slaughter represents significant expense.
Consumption of such animals at feasts intrinsically signals the
importance of the occasion; it also affords an important opportunity
for political gain, as the animals’ donors publicly contribute their
own valuables to feed the community (e.g., Gramly, 1975, p. 110).
Large game animals are quite dangerous as well. This is true of
both herbivores and carnivores. Consider aurochsen, or wild cattle
(Bos primigenius), which ranged across Europe, southwest Asia, and
parts of North Africa and southern Asia until well into the Holo-
cene. Pliny the elder (Rome, ca. 77 AD) described aurochsen as
‘‘exceptionally strong and fast;” S
wie˛ cicki (Poland, 1634 A.D.) re-
ported that ‘‘when provoked they can be exceedingly fierce” (van
Vuure, 2005, pp. 90, 93). Julius Caesar (Gallic Wars 6:28) said that
‘‘[t]heir strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither
man nor wild beast which they have espied. . . .. [N]ot even when
taken very young can they be rendered familiar to men and
tamed.” The awe inspired by aurochsen is linguistically apparent
even today, with the Russian word for aurochs traceable in verbs
like ‘‘to be fast” and the Polish language retaining expressions such
as ‘tura skakac´ ’ (meaning ‘‘to be untameable” or ‘‘to act recklessly,”
‘tur’ being the Polish word for aurochs”) (van Vuure, 2005, p. 91).
The consumption of such animals at a feast would endow the occa-
sion with great symbolic power. It would also endow the provi-
sioning hunters with considerable status, as communal feasts
constitute very public displays of hunting success (e.g., Kent,
In general, therefore, large animal kills commonly trigger feast-
ing. This is true in both hunting and pastoralist groups. Even in
meat-storing societies, significant quantities of meat are com-
monly consumed within a day of killing either a large animal or
multiple animals (e.g., Binford, 1978, pp. 142, 150, 220, 327–328,
418–419, 429; Ertug˘-Yaras, 1997, p. 355; Lee, 1984, pp. 45, 155–
156; Schneider, 1957, p. 291). Accordingly, bones from wild and/
or domestic large animals as well as from animals hunted in mass
kills (e.g., Betts, 1988; Legge and Rowley-Conwy, 1987) are proba-
bly indicative of feasting.
It is also possible that in small-scale societies the remains of all
domestic animals intrinsically signal feasting. Hayden (2003, p.
461) notes that in southeast Asia, ‘‘domestic animals are killed only
inthecontext of feasts andsacrifices. This . . . is a behavioural pattern
. . . overwhelmingly commonintribal and peasant cultures through-
out the world, whether in New Guinea (Blanton and Taylor, 1995),
Crete (Keswani, 1994), rural France (personal observations), or Tur-
key. . .” Ertug˘-Yaras (1997, pp. 314–317, 355) largely agrees, but
notes that animals are also killed when they become hurt or ill. Such
losses to disease and injury may make up a large percentage of live-
stock deaths, especially among inexperienced pastoralists with lim-
ited veterinary knowledge (e.g., Gifford-Gonzalez, 2000; Reitz and
Wing, 1999, p. 300). Human control is often clearly visible in herd
mortality patterns, but the extent of that control is more difficult
to assess, given the multiplicity of factors that shape slaughter deci-
sions (economic strategies, animal health, ritual needs, etc.). Fur-
thermore, scant ethnographic data are available about how small
stock killedfor ill healthare consumed. It is therefore risky, although
plausible, to view all small-domesticate bones as feasting remains.
Feasts commonly involve—even require—the consumption of
alcohol, frequently in large amounts. Maize beer, or chicha, is a key
component of central Andean feasting, and has been for centuries
(Hastorf and Johannessen, 1993; Jennings et al., 2005; Sara-Lafosse,
2007). Sixteenth-century chroniclers note that at great Inka feasts,
‘‘food was plentiful but not elaborate, [and] the real business was
the serving and drinking of large amounts of chicha” (Hastorf and
Johannessen, 1993, p. 118). Similar emphases on alcohol consump-
tion at feasts are apparent in Oceanian, Amazonian, Mesoamerican,
Asian and African cultures (Arthur, 2003; Clarke, 2001; de Garine,
1996; DeBoer, 2001; Dietler, 1990; Dietler, 2001; Jennings et al.,
2005; Simoons and Simoons, 1968; Tomlinson, 2006).
Apart from textual or artistic evidence, alcohol production
and consumption are often archaeologically perceptible via arti-
facts associated with brewing, such as ceramic strainers or jars
with distinctively eroded interiors, or artifacts associated with
consumption, such as long straws or drinking horns (Arthur,
2003; Dietler, 1990; Dietler, 2001; Jennings et al., 2005; Katz
and Voigt, 1986). Organic residues found inside fermentation
and drinking vessels provide the most direct evidence for alcohol
consumption, and can even identify the beverage at hand
(McGovern et al., 2005). Unfortunately, these strong diagnostic
criteria rely on the discovery of preserved vessels or other drink-
ing paraphernalia and are of relatively little use in prehistoric
aceramic and ametallurgical societies. Archaeologists working
in such societies are typically relegated to circumstantial evi-
dence such as the availability of suitable raw materials (grains,
fruits), the technological capabilities of the culture under consid-
eration, and the cross-cultural importance of alcohol (e.g., Katz
and Voigt, 1986).
Physical setting
Although many feasts are held inside homes, feast participants
also often gather at special structures or locations. Rural Mayan
feasters congregate in and around communally constructed
ceremonial houses; Masai and Samburu pastoralists use rock
shelters which they adorn with paintings; protohistoric Marquesan
K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442 423
islanders constructed tohua, or dance platforms surrounded by
platforms and cookhouses (Brown, 2001; Gramly, 1975; Kirch,
2001, p. 172). The Enga construct entire special sites for large
sacred feasts (Wiessner, 2001, p. 129). Feasters may also simply
take advantage of existing corporate structures (Hayden, 1996).
Special feasting locations are potentially identifiable in the archae-
ological record as structures or sites that are unusually con-
structed, decorated, or located, or that have unusual artifactual or
ecofactual contents. Given the strong association between feasting
and ritual activity (discussed below), structures or locations that
have atypical concentrations of ritual paraphernalia or symbolic
activity are particularly promising.
While it is tempting to take the size of special structures or
spaces as a guide to the scale of feasts, this does not always follow.
As noted previously, in many societies feast participants are spa-
tially divided according to gender, rank, age, family, or other crite-
rion (Adams, 2005; Brown, 2001; Clarke, 2001; Dietler, 2001).
Many participants may be seated in open areas outside structures
rather than indoors (e.g., Brown, 2001, pp. 382–383). It is therefore
possible that a structure’s seating capacity reflects the size of the
feasts held there, but this is by no means certain. That said, the
strong correlation between spatial divisions and social distinctions
means that if such divisions can be identified archaeologically (on
the basis of discrete architectural, artifactual, or decorative attri-
butes), they may shed light on the overtly diacritical vs. integrative
functions of ancient feasts.
Ritual and performance
There is a strong association between feasting and ritual activity
(e.g., Adams, 2005; Brown, 2001, p. 382; Colegrove, 1990; de Gar-
ine, 1996; DeBoer, 2001; Kahn, 1986, pp. 81–86; Kirch, 2001, p.
172; Powers and Powers, 1984; Rappaport, 1968; Verbicky-Todd,
1984; Wiessner, 2001). Dietler (2001, p. 72) attributes this associ-
ation to feasts’ ‘‘inherent emotive and symbolic power,” arguing
that feasts are ‘‘a particularly powerful form of ritual activity” be-
cause eating and drinking amount to the physical incorporation of
material culture. Food and drink are condensed representations of
a society’s relations of production and exchange, and their selec-
tion and preparation reflect and express culturally specific norms.
They are, in Dietler’s words, ‘‘highly charged symbolic media.”
Communal consumption at feasts is therefore a symbolically
potent activity.
Associations between food remains and ritual activity are
therefore likely markers of feasting. Feasts may be spatially asso-
ciated with sacred buildings (e.g., Brown, 2001; Kirch, 2001);
graves and/or human remains (e.g., Clarke, 2001; Wiessner,
2001); or religious paraphernalia, particularly items large enough
to be suitable for public viewing (e.g., Brown, 2001; Wiessner,
On a related note, feasts are also frequently marked by singing,
dancing, drama, music, oratory, or other kinds of performances
(e.g., Colegrove, 1990; de Garine, 1996; DeBoer, 2001; Dietler,
2001; Kahn, 1986; Kirch, 2001; Powers and Powers, 1984; Rappa-
port, 1968; Verbicky-Todd, 1984; Wiessner, 2001). Among the
Alaskan Chugach, for example, ‘‘the principal ingredients of any
feasts consisted in singing, dancing and—not least, of course—
extravagant eating. . . . [In] some cases masks were worn”
(Birket-Smith, 1953, p. 108). Such performances reinforce the com-
municative power of the feast: they concentrate attention and
awareness as they intertwine the sensory (visual, kinesthetic
and/or tactile; usually aural and often olfactory as well) with the
symbolic, and meld ritual with entertainment (cf. Garfinkel,
2003, p. 4). Feasts are therefore potentially marked by costume
elements, musical instruments, or other theatrical paraphernalia
(see Perodie, 2001, Fig. 7.1).
The performative elements of feasting also often include dis-
plays of wealth and/or status. There is a sizable ethnographic liter-
ature documenting the lavish displays and distributions of food
and gifts found at some feasts: the potlatches of Northwest Coast
Native Americans are probably the best-known examples, but
ostentatious displays and gifting are documented in numerous
other areas as well (e.g., Boas, 1966; Junker, 2001; Leach, 2003;
Perodie, 2001; Rappaport, 1968). Such displays may be marked
materially by an abundance of prestige items, by the construction
of special display facilities, or even by the deliberate destruction of
wealth or prestige goods. The foods served at a feast are often an
important component of the display (which links back to the pre-
viously mentioned emphasis on special or costly foods), and food
wastage is another form of wealth destruction. Such wastage is of-
ten recognizable archaeologically as unprocessed or minimally
processed food remains.
Another common part of display or performance is the use of
special serving paraphernalia. These vessels may be uncommon
not (or not only) in terms of size, as mentioned above, but in terms
of style, quality, or materials. Some are clearly prestige goods, such
as the trade porcelains and decorated local ware upon which deli-
cacies were served in Prehispanic Philippine chiefdoms (Junker,
2001). Others are functionally differentiated from normal serving
paraphernalia in ways that make them particularly suitable for
feasting use. For example, some feasting vessels are decorated in
ways that enhance their visibility in public contexts: Amazonian
Conibo–Shipibo vessels used in public events are ‘‘flamboyant,”
while Pueblo IV (1275–1600 CE) murals from the American South-
west use bowls with prominent exterior designs as ‘‘icons of par-
ticipation in . . . ceremonialism” (DeBoer, 2001, p. 229; Mills,
2007, p. 213). Serving equipment of unusual quality, decoration
or materials is therefore suggestive of feasting in archaeological
Finally, feasts are often marked by the production and display of
commemorative items. Some of these items are artistic representa-
tions of feast foods (e.g., Adams, 2005; see also Gramly, 1975, p.
112). Others are trophies from the feasts themselves, such as skulls
and horns of the animals consumed (Adams, 2005; Clarke, 2001, p.
160; Hayden, 2001, pp. 55-56; Simoons and Simoons, 1968, p. 154;
Wiessner, 2001, pp. 131-2). In some cases, special constructs
memorialize the feast. For example, Naga feasts are marked by
the erection of posts or stones, which subsequently not only com-
memorate the feast but retain some of its ritual power (Simoons
and Simoons, 1968, pp. 111-113). Memorial constructs are there-
fore plausible feasting markers, but establishing that a particular
construct commemorates a feast as opposed to some other event
is usually difficult. Trophy bones and depictions of food species—
particularly of large animals and other rare or special taxa, as pre-
viously discussed—are easier to link to foodways, and are more
promising archaeological feasting markers.
No single data set is likely to be diagnostic of feasting, especially
since many feasts lack several of the material correlates described
above. Small feasts are commonly prepared over normal household
hearths (Hayden, 2001), for example, and food remains are often
rapidly dispersed (e.g., Adams, 2005; Clarke, 2001). However, most
feasts should be marked by one or more of these signatures. De-
spite the dispersion of food remains following feasts in traditional
eastern Indonesian villages, for example, the events are marked by
the display of ritual paraphernalia and prestige items at the feasts
and commemorated by the subsequent display of trophy bones
(Adams, 2005, p. 187). This indicates the importance of considering
as many lines of evidence as possible when seeking to identify
feasting archaeologically.
424 K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442
Using multiple lines of evidence also mitigates the effects of
cultural, taphonomic and archaeological biases. This is particularly
important for diachronic and interregional studies of feasting.
Preservation of perishables is often poorer in older sites than in
younger ones, and different kinds of sites are often excavated dif-
ferently, producing dissimilar samples. The probability that feast-
ing evidence will be preserved for archaeological discovery is
thus a function of (1) emic traditions (such as using perishable con-
tainers or ceramics, or assembling at special structures or at domi-
ciles); (2) the frequency of feasting, as the more common feasts
were, the more likely it is that some trace of them will be found;
Fig. 1. Map of the southern Levant, with PPN sites.
Table 2
Chronology of the Southern Levantine Neolithic
Period Radiocarbon BP Calibrated BC
PPNA 10,200–9400 9700–8500
MPPNB 9500–8300 8500–7250
LPPNB 8300–7900 7250–6700
PPNC 7900–7500 6600–6250
Late Neolithic 7500–6000? 6250–5300?
After (Banning, 1998; Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002; Twiss, 2007b).
K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442 425
and (3) the scale of excavations, as larger samples are more likely
to include any relevant evidence. Use of multiple data sets lessens
the impact of diachronically or regionally variable preservation
(especially since different kinds of data survive better or worse in
different environments), and increases the probability that any
existing feasting indicators will be found.
The southern Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic
The Neolithic of the southern Levant (Fig. 1; Table 2) is generally
divided into the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) and the Late (Pottery)
Neolithic. This essay focuses on the PPN. In the earliest PPN, or the
Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA: 10,200–9400 BP/9700–8500 cal
BC), Levantines relied on a combination of gathering and hunting
supplemented by cereal and perhaps pulse cultivation (Bar-Yosef
and Meadow, 1995; Colledge, 2001; Colledge et al., 2004; Tchernov,
1993). Cultural continuity from the local Epipaleolithic was strong
(Banning, 1998; Bar-Yosef, 1998; Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002).
Apart from a single wall and tower at Jericho, the small (61.5 ha)
sites contain only domestic architecture, particularly single-room
round houses (Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002).
There is no evidence for formal or ascribed economic or social
differentiation in the PPNA (Banning, 1998; Kuijt, 1994, 1996; Kuijt
and Goring-Morris, 2002). Irregular settlement layouts, open house
plans, generally accessible outdoor cooking and activity areas, and
simple burials without grave goods are characteristic of the period,
and are widely seen as indicators that PPNA social life was essen-
tially egalitarian and communally oriented (Banning, 2003; Kuijt
and Goring-Morris, 2002; Wright, 2000). However, some research-
ers see the beginnings of social complexity in the region’s first
communal building efforts (e.g., the Jericho wall and tower), gen-
dered figurines, and mortuary treatments that differentiate be-
tween children and adults (Bar-Yosef, 2001). If so, it is possible
that the stresses brought on by the transition to village life were
minimized through community ritual (Kuijt, 1996).
In the Early–Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (MPPNB: 9500–
8300 BP/8500–7250 cal BC), domesticated plants and animals be-
came the base of the economy at arable sites. Settlements grew
considerably larger than those of the PPNA, ranging up to 5 ha,
and it is unclear whether variations in site size reflect the existence
of economic or ritual settlement hierarchies (Banning, 1998). As
populations grew, villages developed into large agglomerations of
highly standardized rectilinear houses averaging 20–30 m
in size
and with few internal subdivisions (Banning, 2003; Kuijt and
Goring-Morris, 2002). Non-domestic architecture increased, and
outdoor public spaces were also established (Byrd, 1994; Simmons
and Najjar, 1999, 2006). Technology expanded, long-distance trade
flourished, and limited craft specialization may have begun to di-
vide populations economically (Bar-Yosef Mayer, 1997; Bar-Yosef
and Belfer-Cohen, 1989; Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002; Quintero
and Wilke, 1995).
The ubiquity of simple, modestly sized houses, many of which
contain private storage facilities, suggests that the nuclear family
household was the basal MPPNB socioeconomic unit (Banning,
1998, 2003). In other words, the MPPNB is generally believed to
have been characterized by a household mode of production. Pub-
lic architecture is not common, but the fact that it is found at mul-
tiple sites indicates escalation from the PPNA in terms of
communal organization of labor and formalized community activ-
ities. Expansion of public ritual is further indicated by the regional
advent of sizable (up to one meter tall) and eye-catching plaster
statuary, well-suited for public display (Grissom, 2000; Sch-
mandt-Besserat, 1998), as well as by the existence of small sites
dedicated either largely or entirely to ritual activity (Bar-Yosef
and Alon, 1988; Goring-Morris, 2000; but see Garfinkel, 2006).
Subfloor burials without grave goods remain the mortuary stan-
dard, but far too few burials have been recovered to account for
the majority of the MPPNB population (Rollefson, 2001). This ab-
sence of the masses, together with increased elaboration in the
treatment of selected cranial remains (Kuijt and Goring-Morris,
2002), suggests that intracommunity social differentiation was
also on the rise.
The Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (LPPNB: 8300–7900 BP/7250–
6700 cal BC) was characterized by massive population agglomera-
tion east of the Jordan Valley. Densely settled towns, some of
which extended over more than 10 ha, were filled with houses that
were larger and more elaborate than in previous periods, often
having complex internal layouts and more than one storey (Ban-
ning, 2003). Public construction multiplied, and several structures
are thought to have been dedicated ritual buildings (but see Ban-
ning, 1998; Bienert et al., 2004; Rollefson, 2001; Simmons and Naj-
jar, 1998). Inter- and intrasite economic strategies became more
diverse as food production intensified and craft and subsistence
specialization increased (Gebel et al., 1997; Horwitz et al., 1999;
Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002; Rollefson and Parker, 2002).
The architectural and economic data thus suggest that social
complexity advanced still further in the LPPNB. The intensification
of agricultural production and increases in house size and internal
spatial subdivision are commonly interpreted as indicating a
transition from the nuclear to the extended family as the basal so-
cial unit (Banning, 2003; Flannery, 2002; Rollefson, 2000). More-
over, these larger households were concentrated in newly huge
settlements. Such dense concentrations of discrete and increasingly
economically diversified household units would have required con-
siderable organization, particularly if economic diversification was
associated with nascent socioeconomic hierarchization. Mortuary
data are also consistent with an upsurge in social complexity;
expanding mortuary differentiation is accompanied by the intro-
duction of grave goods into some burials, and despite apparently
higher population levels than in the MPPNB, the number of LPPNB
burials found is even lower (Bienert et al., 2004; Kuijt, 1996; Kuijt
and Goring-Morris, 2002). These changes plausibly account for
the LPPNB increase in public architecture, which entailed signifi-
cant mobilization of communal labor and strongly suggests consid-
erable investment in communal integration.
The LPPNB represented the peak of PPN material complexity, as
the ensuing Pre-Pottery Neolithic C (PPNC; also called the Final
PPNB: 7900–7500 BP/6600–6250 cal BC) was characterized by dra-
matic population disaggregation and material simplification. Large
towns were depopulated in favor of small villages, for reasons that
remain controversial (Banning, 2004; Bar-Yosef, 2001; Köhler-Rol-
lefson, 1988; Kuijt, 2004; Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson, 1989;
Simmons, 2000). Economic reliance on plant and animal domesti-
cates increased still further, and some people may even have be-
come nomadic pastoralists (Köhler-Rollefson, 1988; Rollefson and
Köhler-Rollefson, 1993). Changes in technological and architec-
tural practices included a decline in lithic standardization and
the construction of houses with thinner walls and poorer floors
than in those of the PPNB (Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson, 1993;
Rollefson, 2001).
The extent to which the PPNC’s population disaggregation and
material simplification reflect dramatic declines in social complex-
ity is open to debate. Spatial compartmentalization actually in-
creased from the PPNB to the PPNC at ‘Ain Ghazal, and massive
public construction continued there and elsewhere (Galili et al.,
1993; Rollefson, 2000). The era’s considerable mortuary variabil-
ity—single and multiple burials, primary and secondary inter-
ments, occasional faunal grave goods (Galili et al., 1993;
Hershkovitz and Galili, 1990; Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson,
1993; Rollefson et al., 1992)—likewise suggests that, despite mate-
rial cultural impoverishment, social differentiation of some kind
continued to flourish.
426 K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442
In general, it is clear that the southern Levantine Pre-Pottery
Neolithic was characterized by the development and gradual
expansion of household-based agricultural production. This transi-
tion was associated with economic diversification and increasing
differentiation between households. Such differentiation would
have created socially divisive stresses, so that integration among
separate households must have become an increasingly vital issue.
Not only did households need to create and maintain alliances in-
side and outside the village through exchange, display, and accu-
mulation (see Tringham and Krstic´ , 1990, p. 604), but villages
needed to integrate their numerous increasingly independent
households into functioning social units. Ritual activity is one
mechanism by which socioeconomically divergent households
may have been bound together (Kuijt, 2000a,b, 2004). Feasting is
potentially another. At the same time, feasting would have allowed
households to compete with each other for prestige or political
power, potentially furthering socioeconomic differentiation even
as it mitigated the resultant stresses.
Based on this model as well as the architectural, artifactual, and
mortuary data described above, the scale and intensity of feasting
should have expanded through the PPNA and PPNB as the scale of
society grew, internal competition increased, and integration be-
came an increasingly pressing issue. It may then have declined as
population agglomeration lessened in the PPNC, although it is also
possible that continuing social differentiation created an ongoing
demand for feasts. The following section uses the ethnographically
derived feasting criteria established above to test these expecta-
tions, exploring the evidence for feasting in each subperiod.
Feasting in the levantine neolithic
The first criterion considered in this evaluation of PPNA feasting
activities is the evidence for consumption of large quantities of
food (Table 3). No unusually large and dense food refuse deposits
have been reported, hearths are typically under a meter in diame-
ter, food-processing equipment is typically adequate for family
needs but not for large groups, and storage capacities are generally
small. However, structures around the tower at Jericho have been
repeatedly interpreted as grain storage facilities (Bar-Yosef, 1986;
Kenyon and Holland, 1981, pp. 7, 39-40; Naveh, 2003, p. 85). It is
tempting to suggest that these represent food supplies for large
assemblies, but communal subsistence storage is equally plausible.
Unusually high numbers of food-processing tools were found in
one house at Netiv Hagdud (Bar-Yosef and Gopher, 1997), which
might indicate that its occupants regularly cooked for relatively
large numbers of people, and dozens of such tools were found di-
rectly outside a house at Gesher as well (Garfinkel, 1993). As for
evidence concerning the consumption of a variety of foods, there
is little diversity in preserved PPNA vessels (Wright, 2000).
Table 3
Archaeological signatures of feasts: the PPNA
Common aspect of feasting Material Correlates Found in the PPNA?
Consumption of large quantities of food
and/or drink
Unusually large and dense concentrations of food

Special large-scale disposal practices —
Storage facilities Storage features small but common; possible silos by the Jericho
tower; no animal pens
Atypically large or numerous food preparation/
serving equipment
Collections of food processing tools; Netiv Hagdud Locus 8, Gesher,
Numerous or large cooking facilities —
Consumption of an unusually wide variety
of foods
An unusual variety of cooking or serving equipment —
Consumption of rarely-eaten and/or
symbolically important foods
Remains of rare or labor-intensive species or
Possible: cultivated plants
Culinary emphasis on large animals Remains of large animals Aurochs remains
Consumption of domesticated animals Remains of domesticated animals —
Consumption of alcohol Brewing equipment
Elaborate drinking paraphernalia
Residues of alcoholic beverages
Depictions of alcoholic beverages
Possible: depends on how foods were processed, e.g., if plants
fermented to make alcohol. No direct evidence
Special locations Non-habitation sites
Unusually large, numerous, or elaborate facilities
Unusually elaborate spaces inside structures

Jericho tower

Public rituals Ritual items large enough to be visible from a

Food remains associated with graves/human remains —
Spatial association of food remains/cooking facilities
with ritual sites or structures
Possible food storage by the Jericho tower; cooking evidence lacking
Performances Costume elements —
Displays of wealth and/or status Presence, relative abundance of prestige items
Special display facilities
Destroyed/damaged wealth or prestige items
Discard of edible material, articulated joints, min-
imally processed bones
Unequal quantities of trade goods found at different sites

Special serving paraphernalia Unusual quality/decoration/materials of preparation
A few fine stone bowls: Gilgal, Jericho, Netiv Hagdud
Production/display of commemorative
Artistic representations of food taxa A few zoomorphic figurines: primarily birds
Trophy bones One possible example: Hatoula
Memorial constructs —
K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442 427
In regards to special foods, the remains of cultivated plants may
constitute evidence for PPNA feasting. PPNA archaeobotanical evi-
dence for domesticates is tenuous, and appears in only a minority
of PPNA sites and in very limited quantities (Colledge et al., 2004, p.
S38; Nesbitt, 2002, pp. 120-121). However, cultivation and domes-
tication are distinct phenomena, and current scholarly consensus is
that the former, but not necessarily the latter, existed in the PPNA
(Colledge et al., 2004; Hillman et al., 2001, pp. 384-385; Kislev,
1997, p. 228; Willcox, 2002). If cultigens were available but not a
staple, and if an emic distinction was made between cultigens
and wild cereals (cf. Twiss et al., accepted for publication), culti-
gens would fulfill the feasting criterion of ‘‘consumption of rare
or labor-intensive foods.”
Both wild and domestic cereal remains may also testify to alco-
hol consumption. Indeed, beer production has been posited as the
primary motive behind cereal domestication (Katz and Voigt,
1986). This suggestion is based on ethnographic and historic evi-
dence of the cultural importance and nutritional value of beer,
however: there is no archaeological direct evidence for Neolithic
beer-drinking. Finally, Hayden (1992, 2003) has argued that as a la-
bor-intensive and seasonally scarce resource, as well as a potential
source of alcohol, cereals would have been intrinsically well-suited
to feasting.
The presence of aurochsen in faunal assemblages is strongly
suggestive of PPNA feasting. Aurochsen constitute between 0%
(Netiv Hagdud) and 9.5% (Hatoula) of faunal remains reported
at PPNA sites, averaging 5.5% (Tchernov, 1993). These animals,
which provided tremendous quantities of meat—Goring-Morris
and Horwitz (2007) calculate that one adult aurochs cow would
yield ca. 280 kg of meat, and an adult bull ca. 337 kg—would
have been ideal culinary centerpieces at feasts, in accordance
with the ethnographically documented feasting emphasis on
large animals.
As for special locations that could potentially be associated with
PPNA feasting, the stone tower at Jericho is a patently extraordi-
nary structure that probably had communal ritual significance
(Bar-Yosef, 1986; Bar-Yosef, 2001; Kuijt, 1996; Naveh, 2003). At
8.2 m high, the tower loomed over the surrounding domestic struc-
tures, whose floors were typically sunk up to half a meter below
ground level (Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002; Naveh, 2003). The
tower is also nearly solid stone, with only a staircase inside,
whereas the residential structures have stone foundations and
upper structures built of mudbrick or other perishable materials
(Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002; Naveh, 2003). The permanence
of a monument implies that its ‘‘symbolic essence . . . is imposed,
in some manner, on the consciousness of future generations (Brad-
ley, 1985, 9)” (Naveh, 2003, p. 87). Feasts conducted at the tower
would thus have been endowed with both spatial prominence
and enduring symbolism: a potent combination.
If feasts were conducted at the Jericho tower, only a small sub-
set of the site’s estimated 400–900 inhabitants (Bar-Yosef, 1986, p.
157) could have gathered atop it. The tower measures approxi-
mately seven meters in diameter at its top, and a perishable super-
structure might have decreased the available space (cf. Bar-Yosef,
1986, p. 161). This size limitation raises the possibility of exclusiv-
ity in at least some PPNA feasting, whether via limited participa-
tion in feasts or via spatial segregation of participants, with some
celebrants on the tower and others in adjacent areas. Nearby open
spaces might have held larger public gatherings (e.g., Bar-Yosef,
2001, p. 20), but excavations around the base of the tower were
horizontally limited (see Kenyon, 1957; Kenyon and Holland,
1981) and evidence of this is lacking.
Few other data suggest feasting in the PPNA. There is no evi-
dence for performances or public rituals. Displays of wealth and/
or status are equally unverified, suggested as a possibility only
by differences in the amounts of trade goods recovered at different
sites (Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002, p. 382). Nor are there many
finds amenable to interpretation as commemorative feasting
items. I am aware of only one plausible trophy bone, an aurochs
cranium possibly associated with a PPNA burial at Hatoula (Lech-
evallier and Ronen, 1994), and food iconography is limited to a
handful of zoomorphic figurines, primarily depicting birds (Twiss,
2001). Finally, in regards to special serving paraphernalia, PPNA
food preparation equipment is almost all crudely made and
roughly shaped, suggesting little interest in conspicuous prepara-
tion or consumption of food (Wright, 1993: 97; 2000). There are
a few finer stone bowls, whose potential association with feasting
is made more intriguing by the fact that they are both rarer and
less decorated than stone vessels in the preceding late Epipaleo-
lithic (Wright, 2000).
In general, the PPNA evidence is consistent with feasting, but
does not indicate that it was a common practice. Aurochs remains
are the only clear feasting correlate commonly found at PPNA sites;
all other correlates are either quite rare (collections of food prepa-
ration equipment, fine serving ware, commemorative items),
debatably linked to feasting (plant cultigens), or both (the Jericho
tower). This scarcity of evidence suggests that PPNA feasting was
probably limited in both frequency and scale.
Considerably more evidence indicates feasting in the MPPNB
(Table 4). Particularly notable are dense concentrations of food re-
mains associated with ritual contexts. At Tell Aswad, a M/LPPNB
circular building contained not only human remains and modeled
crania but also hearths, animal remains (principally young
gazelles), and a rich botanical assemblage that included pistachios
(Stordeur, 2003, p. 100). More feasting evidence comes from Kfar
HaHoresh, where 356 partially articulated postcranial aurochs re-
mains (MNI = 8) were found tightly packed into a stone-based
and capped pit directly underneath a human burial (Goring-Morris
and Horwitz, 2007). Apart from the Bos bones, only one red fox
proximal radius and one goat carpal were present in the pit: the
excavators believe that these bones may not be intentional
inclusions in the pit but come from the fill (Goring-Morris and
Horwitz, 2007).
That these Kfar HaHoresh Bos remains represent feasting re-
mains is further indicated by the fact that they were not heavily
processed. The bones were mostly complete, and none bears cut
marks (Goring-Morris and Horwitz, 2007). Postcranial remains
dominate, and skeletal element representation is skewed toward
meat-rich body parts (Goring-Morris and Horwitz, 2007, Table 1).
Food wastage is also signified by the identification of at least thir-
teen sets of articulated bones, including spinal segments, feet, car-
pals and tarsals, and a femoral head and pelvic fragment. The
northwest–southeast orientation of most of the bones indicates
intentional placement, and this as well as stratigraphic data sug-
gest that deposition occurred as a single ritualized event (Goring-
Morris and Horwitz, 2007). The pit is therefore identifiable as a
special single-use installation; its contents are quite distinct from
the fragmentary and scattered remains typical of the site’s midden
Ample food stores would have been available in the MPPNB as
well. Storage facilities are numerous, and there is evidence for stor-
age in perishable containers as well as in built features (Banning,
2004; Garfinkel, 1987; Kirkbride, 1968; Rollefson, 1997; Simmons
and Najjar, 2006; Wright, 2000). At Yiftahel, for example, a single
room (Structure 700, locus 710) yielded both a P1.2 m
silo con-
taining over 2000 horsebean seeds and a midfloor collection of len-
til seeds estimated at 7.375 kg (Garfinkel, 1987). A store of as much
as five gallons of pistachios was recovered from Beidha (Kirkbride,
1968). Direct evidence for animal storage is as yet lacking, since no
animal pens have been identified.
428 K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442
There is considerable evidence for large-scale MPPNB cooking.
Sizable outdoor fire hearths (Byrd, 1994; Kuijt and Goring-Morris,
2002, p. 390; Wright, 2000) have been found at both Beidha and
‘Ain Ghazal, and a concentration of 27 hearths surrounded by ani-
mal remains (75% gazelle) was discovered at Yiftahel (Garfinkel,
1987, p. 8, Fig. 6). (This latter area was not dedicated exclusively
to food preparation, however: lime plaster production and green-
stone working were also conducted there (Garfinkel, 1987).) There
are also open areas with numerous roasting pits containing burnt
stones and animal bones at Kfar HaHoresh, which excavator N.
Goring-Morris (2000) suggests may reflect communal feasting
associated with funerary rituals. Wright (2000) further suggests
that the scarcity of complete in situ grinding slabs at MPPNB ‘Ain
Ghazal reflects outdoor milling near big cooking facilities.
Large food-preparation items are also widely found in the
MPPNB. Limestone platters up to a meter in diameter are charac-
teristic of southern Levantine MPPNB sites, and large milling tools
dominate the food processing equipment (Wright, 1993, 2000, p.
103). Taken together, however, the facts that (a) MPPNB large ves-
sels are generally ‘‘relatively simple when not actually crude”
(Wright, 1993, p. 99), and (b) large milling tools are the MPPNB
norm rather than atypical, suggest that these items may reflect
shared quotidian food preparation and are not evidence for com-
munal feasting. This suggestion is bolstered by the fact that stor-
age, cooking, and milling facilities were habitually placed in
communally visible spaces, whereas bench-lined hearth rooms
(i.e., likely dining areas) were secluded inside houses (Wright,
2000). Of course, large cooking equipment and facilities may be
used to prepare both daily meals and feasts, and their common
presence at MPPNB sites means that feasting-suitable facilities
would have been widely available. The probability of dual use
means only that the quantity of large-scale food preparation finds
cannot be used to interpret the frequency or scale of MPPNB
With regards to the identification of rare or symbolically impor-
tant foods, animal iconography is common in the MPPNB, and the
overwhelming iconographic emphasis is on cattle. At ‘Ain Ghazal,
for example, the only zoomorphic figurines found in situ in special
deposits represented cattle (McAdam, 1997; Rollefson, 1996,
1998a). The presence of Bos remains in faunal assemblages is thus
Table 4
Archaeological Signatures of Feasts: the MPPNB
Common aspect of feasting Material Correlates Found in the MPPNB?
Consumption of large quantities of
food and/or drink
Unusually large and dense concentrations of
food remains
Large plant food stores (e.g., Yiftahel); cattle remains (e.g., Kfar HaHoresh)
Special large-scale disposal practices —
Storage facilities Storage features numerous; perhaps dedicated storage rooms (e.g., Beidha); animal
penning facilities unknown
Atypically large or numerous food
preparation/serving equipment
Large stone platters and large food processing equipment are common, but may
simply be the norm
Numerous or large cooking facilities Large firepits; multiple hearths
Consumption of an unusually wide
variety of foods
An unusual variety of cooking or serving

Consumption of rarely-eaten and/or
symbolically important foods
Remains of rare or labor-intensive species or
Iconographic and contextual evidence suggests the symbolic importance of wild
animals; aurochs, equid, boar, and gazelle remains at numerous agricultural sites
Culinary emphasis on large animals Remains of large animals Aurochs remains
Consumption of domesticated
Remains of domesticated animals Caprine remains
Consumption of alcohol Brewing equipment
Elaborate drinking paraphernalia
Residues of alcoholic beverages
Depictions of alcoholic beverages
Possible, if plants were fermented to make alcohol. No direct evidence
Special locations Non-habitation sites
Unusually large, numerous, or elaborate
facilities; atypically located facilities
Unusually elaborate spaces inside
Special ritual sites: Nahal Hemar, possibly Kfar
Special locations within sites: Beidha communal buildings
Public rituals Ritual items large enough to be visible from a
Plaster statue caches
Food remains associated with graves/human
Yes: Kfar HaHoresh, Tell Aswad
Spatial association of food remains/cooking
facilities with ritual sites or structures
Yes: Nahal Hemar, Kfar HaHoresh, Tell Aswad, Yiftahel
Performances Costume elements Possible: stone masks, unclear if worn
Displays of wealth and/or status Presence, relative abundance of prestige
Special display facilities
Destroyed/damaged wealth or prestige
Discard of edible material, articulated
joints, minimally processed bones
Long-distance trade goods distributed relatively equally; high-quality lithics
Special display facilities possible: niches

Edibles not heavily processed: Kfar HaHoresh cattle, gazelles
Special serving paraphernalia Unusual quality/materials of preparation
Fine stone and decorated plaster vessels; the first ceramics; perhaps white ware was
Production/display of
commemorative items
Artistic representations of food taxa Many zoomorphic figurines, especially of cattle
Trophy bones Multiple examples: Kfar HaHoresh, Tell Aswad, Ghwair, ‘Ain Ghazal
Memorial constructs Possible: stone upright in room at Jericho
K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442 429
a strong indicator of feasting, as the animals were both ritually
important and huge. The proportion of aurochsen is higher in PPNB
than in PPNA assemblages: they total 3.1% and 5% of specimens at
relatively arid Beidha and Ghwair I, respectively, and 8.3% and
12.1% at ‘Ain Ghazal and Jericho, whose lusher environments
would have provided better cattle habitats (Clutton-Brock, 1979;
Hecker, 1982; Köhler-Rollefson et al., 1993; Simmons and Najjar,
2006). It is intriguing that cattle make up 39.4% of the assemblage
at the ritual cave site of Nahal Hemar, but the assemblage is extre-
mely small and only partially studied (Tchernov, 1993).
In addition, throughout the PPNB and PPNC wild animals are
disproportionately common iconographically and in special depos-
its (Cauvin, 2000; Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002; Twiss, 2001;
Verhoeven, 2002). Furthermore, at Kfar HaHoresh, where the heavy
concentration of ritual activity has led to the site being interpreted
as a regional ritual center, the faunal assemblage consists exclu-
sively of wild taxa (Goring-Morris et al., 1994; Goring-Morris,
2000). Consumption of wild animals such as aurochsen, equids,
pigs, and gazelles thus appears to have been symbolically weighted
(see Verhoeven, 2002), and the remains of these animals (found at
multiple sites) plausibly indicative of feasting.
The MPPNB witnessed the regional introduction of domesti-
cated caprines, and as noted previously, in many small-scale soci-
eties healthy domestic animals are deliberately killed and
consumed only at feasts and sacrifices (Hayden, 2003, p. 461).
Unfortunately, spatially contextualized MPPNB caprines remains
are currently scarce, as are taphonomic analyses of butchery and
meat cooking, so these lines of evidence cannot be used to evaluate
Hayden’s suggestion. A scarcity of MPPNB caprine imagery sug-
gests that these animals were not particularly symbolically impor-
tant, which eliminates one possible line of evidence in support of
In the MPPNB, then, wild animal remains probably reflect feast-
ing; domestic animal remains might or might not. Direct evidence
for alcohol consumption is lacking, but the widespread availability
of domestic cereals makes beer production very plausible.
Turning next to evidence for the use of special locations, Nahal
Hemar and perhaps Kfar HaHoresh are considered non-habitation
cultic sites, and food remains have been found at both (Bar-Yosef
and Alon, 1988; Goring-Morris, 2000; but see Garfinkel, 2006 for
an argument that Kfar HaHoresh is in fact a habitation site). Evi-
dence for intrasite special locations is also available. At Beidha, a
series of seven sequentially occupied large buildings were all situ-
ated near the center of the village (Byrd, 1994, p. 656). These build-
ings are over three times larger than average houses, and, unlike
houses, contain large central hearths (mean diameter = 1.45 m)
and little else. Stone bowls and small slabs were embedded in
the floors by the hearths in Phase B; a stone-lined pit and two
stone basins as well as one monolith were found in Phase C (Byrd,
1994).These buildings are clearly non-domestic and are generally
thought to be venues for communal activities and rituals (Byrd,
1994). Given the size and centrality of the hearths, these activities
may have involved communal hospitality (Banning, 1998, 2004).
(The same may have been true at Yiftahel, where the concentration
of 27 hearths lay to the north of an unusually large structure (Ban-
ning, 2004; Garfinkel, 1987, p. 8, Fig. 6).) It is also noteworthy that
the only external storage facility reported at Neolithic Beidha was
built in Phase C in an enclosed courtyard adjacent to the large
building. This multichambered structure is interpreted by Byrd as
reflecting corporate rather than household storage (Byrd, 1994, p.
Evidence for performances and particularly for public ritual also
increases in the MPPNB. Life-size limestone masks could have been
used as costume elements, although it is not known if they were
actually worn (Bar-Yosef and Alon, 1988; Kuijt and Goring-Morris,
2002). As for public ritual, roughly half life-size anthropomorphic
plaster statues from Jericho, ‘Ain Ghazal, and Nahal Hemar are
large enough to be visible from a distance.
Good examples of food remains associated with mortuary
deposits from Tell Aswad and Kfar HaHoresh were described
above. Kfar HaHoresh also yielded articulated gazelle remains in
association with human remains (Goring-Morris et al., 1994; Gor-
ing-Morris, 2000): a single, decapitated gazelle carcass, found in
association with a modeled plastered skull and near another hu-
man burial. If this gazelle reflects feasting, as Goring-Morris and
Horwitz (2007) propose, then the dramatically different amounts
of meat represented by the Kfar HaHoresh gazelle and aurochsen
deposits strongly suggests multiple scales of feasting in the
MPPNB. However, the gazelle carcass does not necessarily repre-
sent consumption remains. The treatment of the decapitated ga-
zelle echoes the standard PPN human burial practice of
postmortem skull removal, and evidence for consumption of the
animal is lacking. Quite possibly, the gazelle deposit is associated
with symbolic activity distinct from feasting.
Long-distance trade goods such as shell beads and obsidian as
well as specialist-produced lithics are likely prestige items, but
are relatively equally distributed (Banning, 1998; Kuijt and Gor-
ing-Morris, 2002). Architectural niches would provide display
opportunities, but could also have been used for storage. Food
wastage is clear from the bones discovered at Kfar HaHoresh, but
we lack other evidence for wealth destruction. MPPNB populations
thus could have staged displays of wealth or prestige goods, but
minimally processed food remains are the only concrete evidence
that they actually did so.
High-quality or decorated serving vessels may be interpreted as
special serving paraphernalia, and some MPPNB vessels are both
aesthetically pleasing and reasonably labor-intensive to produce.
Stone vessels are more diverse and more finely made in the PPNB
than in the PPNA (Wright, 2000). Kenyon(1957, p. 56, Plate 14) de-
scribed the stone bowls of Jericho as made of ‘‘a soft local lime-
stone which can be polished to a high and beautiful finish”. A
broken platter fragment from Kfar HaHoresh was made of a chalky
limestone too soft to have been used for grinding or pounding; a
complete platter from the same site was fairly thin-walled and
well-made (Goring-Morris et al., 1994). The unsuitability of these
platters for food processing suggests that they were made for serv-
ing or display. Plaster ‘‘white ware” vessels are more complex than
stone ones, and some have incised and painted decoration (Goren
and Goldberg, 1991; Rollefson, 1990; Schick, 1988; Wright, 1993,
2000). In addition, plaster’s use in a great variety of PPNB ritual
paraphernalia (plastered skulls, statues, beads, etc.) may have en-
dowed these vessels with ceremonial and/or ideological
Small numbers of pottery fragments have been reported at a
few sites (Banning, 1998, p. 206; Rollefson et al., 1992; Simmons
and Najjar, 2006). This pottery, closely related to white ware,
may have shared in the latter’s ritual significance (Gopher and Go-
ren, 1995; c.f.Rice, 1999, p. 42). Beyond that, Hayden (1995a, pp.
260–61; 1998, p. 29) has hypothesized that the social importance
of the earliest pottery was linked specifically to feasting. Compet-
itive feasters ‘‘would accomplish little by displaying foodstuffs, no
matter how sumptuous, in the same gourds or stone bowls used by
all members of the group for generations” (Rice, 1999, pp. 40–41);
in contrast, they could draw significant attention to themselves by
using technologically (and perhaps stylistically) innovative vessels
such as clay pots. Clay pots might also have been attractive to
feasters because they eased production of erstwhile-labor-inten-
sive, and therefore prestigious, boiled or brewed foods (Hayden,
1995a, p. 261). Furthermore, while the earliest pottery at Neolithic
Çatalhöyük in Anatolia seems to have been used for food storage
rather than either presentation or cooking (Atalay and Hastorf,
2006, p. 310), in the southern Levant most of the earliest pottery
430 K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442
consists of cups, bowls, and decorated pottery, and ‘‘the beginnings
of pottery technology seem to be involved largely in the sphere of
food distribution, consumption, and enjoyment” (Banning, 2003, p.
17). MPPNB potsherds thus plausibly represent the remains of
feasting vessels.
Artistic representations of animal remains as well as displays of
remains are well known in the MPPNB. As noted previously, cattle
figurines are particularly common (McAdam, 1997; Rollefson,
1996, 1998a). Admittedly, these images are small and consistently
found in domestic contexts, and their size and the fact that some
were ‘haltered’ with thread while others were cord-impressed
and stabbed with flints, or decapitated, suggests magic (c.f. Ucko,
1968; Voigt, 2000) rather than memorialization. It is possible,
however, that these purposes were intertwined, and some of the
figurine treatments (e.g., haltering, decapitation) depict practices
plausibly associated with feasting, such as bringing sacrificial ani-
mals to the site, or executing them.
Ritualized displays and depos-
its of animal remains include those mentioned previously, as well as
four goat crania and one Bos skull found on a Ghwair I floor (it is also
possible that they fell from the walls), and three Bos metacarpals dis-
covered in a storage bin along with a bull figurine at ‘Ain Ghazal
(Rollefson and Simmons, 1986; Simmons and Najjar, 2006). There
is no clear evidence for memorial constructs, but a large stone up-
right was discovered in a room at Jericho, having perhaps originally
stood in a niche (Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002).
Strong evidence for LPPNB feasting comes from Basta, where
the remains of a pregnant cow and her fetus (domestication status
unknown) were discovered less than a meter away from a human
burial (Becker, 2002, p. 124). The cow appears to have been care-
fully butchered, with an unusually high number of cut marks on
her ribs, vertebrae, pelvis, and feet, but after consumption her
bones were placed in a pit in roughly anatomical arrangement.
No cut marks were identified on the fetus. This deposit suggests
again that cattle were the dominant feasting food, but a collection
of meat-rich body parts from eight caprines and a gazelle were also
found nearby (Becker, 2002).
Apart from this deposit, there is ample evidence for large-scale
food production and accumulation in the LPPNB (Table 5), but less
for large-scale cooking or consumption of a variety of foods. Sizable
plant food stores have been recovered, including hundreds of thou-
Table 5
Archaeological Signatures of Feasts: the LPPNB
Common aspect of feasting Material Correlates Found in the LPPNB?
Consumption of large quantities of food
and/or drink
Unusually large and dense concentrations of food
Large plant food stores (e.g., ‘Ain Ghazal); animal remains
concentration (Basta: arranged cow and fetus)
Special large-scale disposal practices Possible: large firepits at Phase C Beidha (MPPNB but transitional into
the LPPNB)
Storage facilities Storage features numerous; very probably storage rooms; animal
pens unknown
Atypically large or numerous food preparation/
serving equipment
Possible: large equipment, sometimes in multiples, but perhaps just
used to feed extended households
Numerous or large cooking facilities (hearths, ovens) —
Consumption of an unusually wide variety
of foods
An unusual variety of cooking or serving equipment —
Consumption of rarely-eaten and/or
symbolically important foods
Remains of rare or labor-intensive species or
Apparent symbolic importance of wild animals; aurochs, equid, boar,
and gazelle remains at numerous sites
Culinary emphasis on large animals Remains of large animals Aurochs & domestic cattle remains
Consumption of domesticated animals Remains of domesticated animals Caprines, cattle, unclear if domesticated pigs
Consumption of alcohol Brewing equipment
Elaborate drinking paraphernalia
Residues of alcoholic beverages
Depictions of alcoholic beverages
Possible, if plants were fermented to make alcohol. No direct evidence
Special locations Non-habitation sites
Unusually large, numerous, or elaborate facilities;
atypically located facilities
Unusually elaborate spaces inside structures
No special ritual sites
Non-residential buildings in sites; some have hearths, e.g., ‘Ain Ghazal
Public rituals Ritual items large enough to be visible from a

Food remains associated with graves/human remains Yes: Basta
Spatial association of food remains/cooking facilities
with ritual sites or structures
Fire installations common in non-domestic buildings
Performances Costume elements Possible: stone mask fragment at Basta, image of dancers(?) at
Displays of wealth and/or status Presence, relative abundance of prestige items
Special display facilities
Destroyed/damaged wealth or prestige items
Discard of edible material, articulated joints, min-
imally processed bones
Long-distance trade goods; more specialist crafts
Special display facilities: niches, e.g., ‘Ain Jammam
Destroyed prestige items possible: small numbers of grave goods
Food wastage not egregious, but unprocessed bones at Basta, Tif’dan;
evidence for pit roasting
Special serving paraphernalia Unusual quality or materials of preparation
Finely made stone vessels; perhaps white ware was significant
Production/display of commemorative
Artistic representations of food taxa Yes, although figurines rarer than in MPPNB
Trophy bones Yes: ‘Ain Jammam, ‘Ain Ghazal
Memorial constructs Perhaps, e.g., pillar at ‘Ain Jammam
Although the site is outside of the southern Levant, it is also interesting that
‘‘nearly all” of the figurines from Neolithic Gritille in Turkey are both found in roasting
pits and identified as vehicles for sympathetic magic (Voigt, 2000).
K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442 431
sands of charred peas and lentils from a single burned house at ‘Ain
Ghazal (Rollefson, 1997), and extensive storage facilities were
available: not only silos, bins, and vessels but probably dedicated
storerooms as well (Banning, 2004). There are, however, indica-
tions that households varied in their storage capacities. Banning
(2004, p. 229) calculates that many LPPNB houses would have
had storage capacities ‘‘many times greater than in the Middle
PPNB,” but notes that others probably had far smaller storage vol-
umes, comparable to MPPNB capacities.
Unusually large or numerous cooking facilities are not reported,
but some large firepits and hearths at Beidha date to the latest
occupation of the site, which is transitional to the LPPNB (Wright,
2000). These could have been used as disposal facilities as well as
cooking ones. Collections of cooking and serving equipment, some
of which include big grinding tools, have been reported at multiple
sites. They clearly indicate that food was regularly prepared for rel-
atively large groups of people. However, the seclusion of these col-
lections inside sizable houses may mean that they were used to
prepare meals for extended households rather than (or in addition
to) broader community groups (Wright, 2000). Atypically varied
collections of cooking equipment are missing.
LPPNB iconography and special deposits indicate that the re-
mains of edible wild animals probably reflect consumption of sym-
bolically important foods. Equid, deer, boar, and gazelle remains at
southern Levantine LPPNB sites total between 1.1% and 19.4% of
faunal assemblages (Twiss, 2007c, Table 16). Cattle are excluded
from these numbers because while LPPNB populations continued
to hunt aurochsen, some cattle appear to have been domestic
(Becker, 2002; Horwitz and Ducos, 2005; Twiss, 2007), and it is
not generally possible to determine the proportions of wild and
domestic animals in individual assemblages.
Proportions of aurochsen and cattle together sometimes sur-
pass those of the MPPNB: they total between 3.8% and 15.7% of re-
mains in published assemblages (Becker, 2002; Köhler-Rollefson et
al., 1993; Simmons et al., 2001; Twiss, 2003; von den Driesch and
Wodtke, 1997). Domestic caprines were widely available, and
again may or may not have been consumed primarily at feasts;
the proximity of caprine meat-rich body parts to Basta’s special
cattle deposit raises the possibility that they may have been at
least supplementary feasting foods (Becker, 2002). There is still
no direct evidence for alcohol production or consumption.
No dedicated ritual sites have been discovered for the LPPNB,
but several special buildings have been. Some of these contain
hearths. For example, multiple special non-residential structures
have been identified at ‘Ain Ghazal: three or four small apsidal
buildings, two small circular structures, and two rectangular
‘‘temples” (Rollefson, 2000; Rollefson, 1998b). The entrance to
one temple’s innermost room was concealed behind an angled wall
protrusion, which suggests limited visual and physical access to it
(Rollefson, 1997). Some cooking could have occurred inside this
room, as it contained a red-painted lime plaster hearth as well as
three orthostats and a slightly elevated and heavily burnt large clay
slab (Rollefson, 2000).
Evidence for performances is sparse. As in the MPPNB, stone
masks may have functioned as costume elements (Nissen et al.,
1987). In addition, Garfinkel (2003, p. 116) has identified four fig-
ures standing in a row on a stone carving from the eastern desertic
site of Dhuweila as masked dancers, but this interpretation is
The evidence for wealth display is slightly stronger than in the
MPPNB. High-status items were clearly available: specialist crafts
increased in the LPPNB, and included luxury items such as sand-
stone rings produced on a large scale (Bienert and Gebel, 2004; Ge-
bel et al., 1997). Long-distance trade goods have also been
discovered in numerous sites. Large display facilities have not been
documented, but architectural niches continue, and some were
clearly used to exhibit valued objects (see below re ‘Ain Jammam).
The only destroyed prestige items are grave goods consisting of
small numbers of personal items such as jewelry and palettes. They
are not common, but they have been reported at several sites,
including ‘Ain Ghazal, Ba’ja, Basta, and es-Sifiya (Gebel et al.,
2004; Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002; Nissen et al., 1987).
Food wastage is reflected by unprocessed bones at Basta and Tel
Tif’dan. In addition, bone breakage, cut mark, and burning data
from WFD 001 suggest animals were cooked by pit-roasting
(Twiss, 2003). Pit-roasting implies some fat wastage, which may
have been socially significant, particularly if conspicuous; fatty
meat roasts are commonly associated with large groups of people
(Wandsnider, 1997, p. 14).
High-quality vessels have been found at multiple sites. Among
the finely made stone vessels from LPPNB Basta, for example, are
a ‘‘spectacular” stone vessel base fragment (Gebel et al., 2004, p.
91, Fig 14.5) and another vessel adorned with three-dimensional
loops, perhaps for hanging (Nissen et al., 1987, Fig. 15.10).
White-ware vessels were also in use, including some fairly sizable
storage jars (625 cm in diameter) (Gebel et al., 2004, pp. 88–90).
Figurines are relatively rare in the LPPNB, but animal trophy
bones are reported at multiple sites. Many of the apparent trophy
bones are of gazelle. At ‘Ain Jammam, a gazelle skull was placed in
a small, eye-level niche so that it appeared to gaze out over the
room, and a single gazelle horn core lay on the floor under the
niche (Rollefson, 1998a, p. 112; Waheeb and Fino, 1997). The room
in which these remains were placed also contained a huge, free-
standing pillar and a specially walled-off human burial (Rollefson,
1998a). Gazelle horns have been found at ‘Ain Ghazal as well; so
has a burial pit containing an articulated gazelle whose feet were
charred prior to its burial (Rollefson, 1998a).
PPNC data are mixed with regards to the likelihood of large-
scale consumption events (Table 6). Large amounts of storage were
certainly available, in storerooms as well as in smaller features and
perishable containers (Banning, 2004; Galili et al., 1993; Garfinkel
et al., 2005; Zohar et al., 2001), and Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson
have suggested that some buildings functioned entirely as ‘‘storage
bunkers” (Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson, 1993; Rollefson, 1997, p.
294). Large cooking facilities are represented by Ashkelon’s con-
centration of eight large hearths (Garfinkel et al., 2005); some out-
door firepits at ‘Ain Ghazal could also have been used as large
cooking facilities (Rollefson, 1997).
A dense and spatially circumscribed deposit of ‘‘post-LPPNB”
(Final PPNB or PPNC) animal bones from Basta is unusual in that
it contains articulated segments. Meat-bearing bones are under-
represented, however, and only a minority of disarticulated bone
fragments appear to represent consumption remains rather than
slaughter refuse (Becker in Gebel et al., 2004). Accordingly, despite
its density and spatial circumscription, this deposit cannot be con-
sidered evidence of feasting.
Proportions of wild and domestic cattle vary in the small num-
ber of published PPNC faunal assemblages. This variation appears
to be regional. Cattle constitute between 3.8% and 7.1% of the PPNC
assemblages at the eastern (Jordanian) sites of ‘Ain Ghazal
(NISP = 4989) and Wadi Shu’eib (NISP = 902) (Köhler-Rollefson et
al., 1993; Simmons et al., 2001; von den Driesch and Wodtke,
1997). In contrast, cattle proportions range between 33% and 46%
of NISP at the western (Israeli) sites of Hagoshrim (NISP = 1660),
Ashkelon (NISP = 5665), and Atlit Yam (NISP = 322) (Galili et al.,
1993; Garfinkel et al., 2005; Haber and Dayan, 2004).
The repeated presence of suid remains in graves at ‘Ain Ghazal
indicates that pigs and/or wild boars were ritually significant, at
least at this site (Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson, 1993). Suid pro-
portions are similar there (6.7% of NISP), at Ashkelon (7%), and at
432 K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442
Atlit Yam (9%), but 15% of Wadi Shu’eib’s and 40% of Hagoshrim’s
fauna are wild boars (Galili et al., 1993; Garfinkel et al., 2005;
Haber and Dayan, 2004; Simmons et al., 2001; von den Driesch
and Wodtke, 1997). In contrast to cattle consumption, the intersite
differences in pig or boar consumption do not split along an east/
west axis. Rather, ecological variations appear determinative:
Ashkelon and Atlit Yam are coastal sites, ‘Ain Ghazal and Wadi
Shu’eib are peri-steppic, with the latter having more woodland,
and Hagoshrim lies in the well-watered and historically swampy
Hula Valley. This strong correlation between suid consumption
and the local availability of good pig habitat precludes simply
interpreting pig/boar use as proportional to the amount of feasting
done at different sites. It is necessary instead to consider dia-
chronic patterns of pig use within individual sites. The only sizable
faunal assemblage for which this is currently possible is ‘Ain Gha-
zal’s: suid proportions in its PPNC deposits are lower (6.7%) than
those from its MPPNB (9.2%) and LPPNB (7.2% in the LPPNB; 5.7%
in the LPPNB/PPNC) levels (von den Driesch and Wodtke, 1997).
Edible wild taxa generally declined in PPNC assemblages as reli-
ance on domesticates increased (Horwitz et al., 1999; Kuijt and
Goring-Morris, 2002; von den Driesch and Wodtke, 1997), but as
both were possible feasting foods, this change alone may not indi-
cate either a decrease or an increase in feasting. Indeed, although
PPNC figurines are rare, their taxonomic proportions hint that
domesticates may have been more symbolically important in the
PPNC than in the PPNB, and cattle and wild animals less so: the
four PPNC zoomorphic figurines from ‘Ain Ghazal’s include one
equid, one Bos, one sheep, and one goat (Rollefson, 2000, p. 178).
This may mean that domesticates were relatively likely to have
been feasting foods in the PPNC.
Domestic cereal stores testify to the availability of fermentable
grain, but yet again, there is no direct evidence for alcohol
Small amounts of evidence suggest a modicum of social differ-
entiation in the PPNC, but nothing indicates significant displays of
wealth and/or status. Long-distance trade goods are available, as
are a small number of personal ornaments (Garfinkel et al., 2005;
Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson, 1993; Simmons et al., 2001), but
fine workmanship and craft specialization decline (Rollefson and
Köhler-Rollefson, 1993). Modest grave goods are found in roughly
a third of graves, and burial styles vary more than in previous eras.
Yet graves are typically quite simple, and almost all grave goods
are ritual or functional items rather than the previous era’s per-
sonal adornments (e.g., pig bones and cattle horn cores; stone
and bone tools) (Galili et al., 2005; Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson,
1993). Group burials are also common. No clear evidence for
Table 6
Archaeological Signatures of Feasts: the PPNC
Common aspect of feasting Material Correlates Found in the FPPNB/PPNC?
Consumption of large quantities of food
and/or drink
Unusually large and dense concentrations of food

Special large-scale disposal practices —
Storage facilities Storage features; storage bunkers debated (‘Ain Ghazal); animal pens
Atypically large or numerous food preparation/
serving equipment

Numerous or large cooking facilities (hearths, ovens) Yes: Ashkelon concentration of 8 large hearths, and ‘Ain Ghazal firepits
potentially used as large cooking facilities
Consumption of an unusually wide variety
of foods
An unusual variety of cooking or serving equipment —
Consumption of rarely-eaten and/or
symbolically important foods
Remains of rare or labor-intensive species or
Cattle remains: common in the west, not common in the east. Suid
remains: amounts vary by local ecology
Culinary emphasis on large animals Remains of large animals Cattle and aurochs remains: very common in the west, not common in
the east
Consumption of domesticated animals Remains of domesticated animals Caprine, cattle, and pig remains common
Consumption of alcohol Brewing equipment
Elaborate drinking paraphernalia
Residues of alcoholic beverages
Depictions of alcoholic beverages
Possible, if plants were fermented to make alcohol. No direct evidence
Special locations Non-habitation sites
Unusually large, numerous, or elaborate facilities;
atypically located facilities
Unusually elaborate spaces inside structures

Two megalithic installations at Atlit Yam

Public rituals Ritual items large enough to be visible from a

Food remains associated with graves/human
Yes: ‘Ain Ghazal, Atlit Yam
Spatial association of food remains/cooking facilities
with ritual sites or structures
Possible: cup-marks in stone slabs by Atlit Yam megaliths
Performances Costume elements —
Displays of wealth and/or status Presence, relative abundance of prestige items
Special display facilities
Destroyed/damaged wealth or prestige items
Discard of edible material, articulated joints, min-
imally processed bones

Grave goods (pig and cattle remains; tools)

Special serving paraphernalia Unusual quality or materials of preparation
Some fine stone vessels, a few potsherds
Production/display of commemorative
Artistic representations of food taxa Few figurines, possibly lower %s cattle imagery
Trophy bones —
Memorial constructs Possible: megaliths at Atlit Yam
K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442 433
display facilities or food wastage has been reported. A few fine
serving vessels have been found, such as a pedestalled basalt bowl
from Atlit Yam and an engraved limestone one from Ashkelon, and
a ‘‘handful” of shards were recovered from the cores of PPNC walls
at ‘Ain Ghazal, so special serving paraphernalia does continue
(Banning, 1998, p. 206; Galili et al., 2005; Garfinkel et al., 2005).
Examples of PPNC public construction include water wells,
walled streets, and a massive, nearly meter-and-a-half wide wall,
but no non-domestic buildings have been reported (Galili et al.,
2002; Galili et al., 1993; Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson, 1993; Rol-
lefson, 1998a).
Perhaps some cooking occurred near one of the two
megalithic installations found at Atlit Yam, as a few stone slabs with
shallow cup-marks hewn into them were found close by (Galili et al.,
As for possible trophy bones, suid remains have been found in
several burials at ‘Ain Ghazal, and cattle horn cores were associ-
ated with human remains at Atlit Yam (Galili et al., 2005; Rollef-
son, 2000, p. 179; Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson, 1993;
Rollefson, 1998a, pp. 117-8). The pig bones may be disproportion-
ately associated with a particular ‘Ain Ghazal building complex,
which Rollefson (1998a) suggests may represent evidence for
clan-based totemism. It could also indicate intrasite variation in
the scale or content of feasting, or the interment of feast hosts
(or provisioners) in a particular location. Excavators have specu-
lated that the previously discussed Atlit Yam megalithic installa-
tion was associated with a freshwater spring (Galili et al., 2002,
p. 174). It (and/or the second megalithic installation) could also
or instead be memorial constructs: further research is needed to
ascertain their function.
Diachronic changes in the frequency and scale of feasting
Table 7 summarizes the evidence for feasting in the southern
Levantine PPN. It also enables a rough diachronic comparison of
the amount of evidence suggesting feasting. If one point is given
for each feasting correlate found and half a point for each correlate
potentially present (such as alcohol consumption, or PPNA culti-
gens as special foods), then the PPNA gets 9 out of a possible 20
points, the MPPNB gets 18 points, the LPPNB 17 points (or 18 if Bei-
dha’s Phase C firepits are included), and the PPNC 12 points. A
more conservative calculation, one which gives no points for
potentially present correlates, provides similar results: 7 points
for the PPNA, 15 for the MPPNB, 14 for the LPPNB, and 10 for the
PPNC. The evidence for feasting is thus weak in the PPNA, quite
strong in the MPPNB and LPPNB, and moderate in the PPNC.
It must be remembered that these comparisons are very rough,
as the amount of data available from each period varies. The PPNC
in particular is less well understood than the preceding periods,
with fewer excavated sites and more limited areal excavations
within those sites (Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002). That said, all
periods include sites with extensive horizontal exposures, multiple
structures, and numerous artifacts and ecofacts, including burials
(e.g., Bar-Yosef and Gopher, 1997; Byrd, 1994; Galili et al., 1993;
Rollefson et al., 1992). It is highly unlikely that standard PPN arti-
facts, ecofacts, or structures have been missed. Furthermore, if one
Table 7
Archaeological Signatures of Feasts: PPNA to PPNC
Common aspect of feasting Material Correlates PPNA MPPNB LPPNB PPNC
Consumption of large quantities of food and/or drink Unusually large and dense concentrations of food remains No Yes Yes No
Special large-scale disposal practices No No ? No
Storage facilities Yes Yes Yes Yes
Atypical food preparation/serving equipment Yes ? ? No
Numerous or large cooking facilities (hearths, ovens) No Yes No
Consumption of an unusually wide variety of foods An unusual variety of cooking or serving equipment No No No No
Consumption of rarely-eaten and/or symbolically
important foods
Remains of rare or labor-intensive species or preparations ? Yes Yes Yes
Culinary emphasis on large animals Remains of large animals Yes Yes Yes Yes
Consumption of domesticated animals Remains of domesticated animals No ?
Consumption of alcohol Brewing/drinking gear, residues, depictions of alcohol ? ? ? ?
Special locations Non-habitation sites
Unusual facilities or spaces inside facilities
No Yes No No
Yes Yes Yes Yes
Public rituals Ritual items large enough to be visible from a distance No Yes No No
Food remains associated with graves/human remains No Yes Yes Yes
Spatial association of food remains/cooking facilities with ritual sites
or structures
? Yes Yes ?
Performances Costume elements No ? ? No
Displays of wealth and/or status Prestige items
Special display facilities
Destroyed/damaged wealth or prestige items
Discard of edible material
Yes Yes Yes Yes
? Yes No
No Yes Yes
Yes Yes No
Special serving paraphernalia Unusual quality or materials of preparation equipment Yes Yes Yes Yes
Production/display of commemorative items Artistic representations of food taxa Yes Yes Yes Yes
Trophy bones ? Yes Yes No
Memorial constructs No ? ? ?
Point total 9 18 17
? = Possible; depends on interpretation of archaeological data. No = no archaeological evidence yet reported. The point total is calculated as follows: one point for a ‘‘Yes,” zero
points for a ‘‘No,” and 0.5 points for a ‘‘?”. Data summarized in this chart are presented in more detail in Tables 3–6 as well as discussed in the text.
Beidha’s Phase C firepits are excluded as transitional MPPNB–LPPNB; if they are included, the LPPNB gets another point.
Domesticated animals were clearly present, but they were not necessarily consumed only or mostly at feasts.
A structure originally attributed to the PPNC was subsequently
C-dated to the
LPPNB (Rollefson, 1998b, 2000).
434 K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442
excludes criteria reliant on the discovery of unusual data (all those
with ‘‘unusual”, ‘‘atypical”, or ‘‘special” in the description) from
consideration, the pattern still holds: the PPNA gets four points,
the MPPNB twelve, the LPPNB ten, and the PPNC nine.
It is possible that changing feasting practices (such as, perhaps,
the replacement of perishable vessels with ceramics) contribute to
this pattern. The extent of any such impact cannot be established,
but given the PPN’s general cultural continuity it is unlikely that it
was extreme. In general, it appears that feasting increased from the
PPNA into the PPNB, only to decrease again in the PPNC. All periods
are sufficiently old that differential preservation of perishables
should not be a major concern.
A related question is the scale of feasting in each subperiod,
meaning the number of participants and the quantities of food in-
volved. This should be reflected in the size and number of cooking
and serving equipment and facilities used. PPNA cooking equip-
ment and facilities are generally modest in size (Wright, 2000,
pp. 98–101), suggesting that any feasts would have been relatively
small events. The MPPNB advent of far larger food-preparation
tools and cooking locales implies an increase in the scale of food
production and feasting. Unfortunately, evidence is lacking for
LPPNB feasting equipment and facilities: individual houses had
more culinary equipment than in preceding periods, but the place-
ment of these items in highly private spaces indicates that they
were used to provision expanded domestic units rather than com-
munal feasts (Wright, 2000, p. 114). Firepits at PPNC ‘Ain Ghazal
may or may not have been used for cooking. If they were, sizable
meals could have been cooked over them.
The amount of food storage available is also potentially corre-
lated with feast size, although imperfectly so: in-the-field stores
and stores in perishable containers are typically missed, and on-
the-hoof stores are visible only if they consisted of domesticates
kept onsite in pens. PPNA storage features are numerous but typi-
cally small; storage capacities increased in the MPPNB and then
again in the LPPNB. The extent of PPNC storage depends on
whether some buildings (or the basements of some buildings)
were dedicated entirely to storage (e.g., Rollefson and Köhler-Rol-
lefson, 1993). If so, storage capacities remained high; if not, they
probably declined somewhat from the LPPNB.
The faunal data likewise suggest increased feasting from the
PPNA into the PPNB, followed by a modest decline into the PPNC.
It is particularly interesting to trace proportions of cattle diachron-
ically within single sites, where the effects of ecological variation
should be moderate. Suitable published assemblages are few, but
generally indicate a higher proportion of cattle in the PPNB than
in either the PPNA or the PPNC (Table 8.) The PPNB rise in cattle
proportions is commonly attributed to cattle domestication (e.g.,
Haber and Dayan, 2004, p. 1597). That is probably at least part of
the explanation in the later PPN (although it cannot explain the
PPNC decline), but it does not diminish the social impact of in-
creased cattle consumption. Yet it is also possible, especially in
the early MPPNB, that increased cattle exploitation was not (or
not exclusively) linked to an increase in the accessibility of cattle,
but to an increased social demand for them. Perhaps this demand,
reflected in an iconographic as well as an osteological increase in
cattle representation, was associated with an increase in feasting.
Cattle proportions also raise the possibility of regionalization of
feasting in the PPNC. East of the Jordan Valley, newly scattered
populations relied heavily on caprines and shifted away from cattle
feasting. In the west, however, cattle were among the most com-
monly consumed mammals (Galili et al., 1993; Haber and Dayan,
2004). This split is undoubtedly at least partly environmental in
origin: the lusher west would generally have offered better cattle
habitats than the drier east.
Regardless of its root cause, the higher proportions of large ani-
mals in the west suggest more and larger-scale feasting there than
in the east. It must be remembered, however, that high proportions
of cattle in macrofaunal assemblages could be produced by less eat-
ing of caprines, rather than by more eating of cattle. This seems
quite possible in the cases of Atlit Yam and Ashkelon, coastal com-
munities which fished and gathered mollusks as well as hunted
and herded (Galili et al., 1993; Garfinkel et al., 2005). Little besides
the fauna has yet been published on Hagoshrim, precluding analy-
sis of what its other data sets may or may not suggest about the
importance of feasting there.
The possible rise of pork as a feasting food may be attributable
to suid domestication, but, given that pigs are smaller than cattle,
would fit also with a decline in the scale of feasts. In addition, while
intersite differences in pig/boar consumption are clearly ecological
in origin, ‘Ain Ghazal’s small decrease in suid proportions from the
PPNB to the PPNC might indicate that even smaller-scale feasting
was on the wane. Of course, changes in the local environment
could also have produced this shift by decreasing local pig habitat
(e.g., Rollefson and Köhler-Rollefson, 1989). PPNC pig consumption
patterns might therefore reflect a decline in the extent and/or the
scale of feasting, but further data are needed to test this.
Room size is a tenuous criterion for assessing total feast size,
since, as noted previously, feast participants do not always sit to-
gether. What room size truly indicates is the number of people able
to actually eat together, which may be either the total number of
feast participants or a segregated subset of them. Since the rooms
under consideration here are those identified as atypical, particu-
larly with respect to size and elaboration, it is logical to expect that
if only a subset of feasters were seated in them they would be an
elite group.
If the Jericho tower was a PPNA feasting locale, and if no super-
structure diminished the space available atop it (both highly spec-
ulative propositions), then its 7 m diameter translates to an area of
approximately 38 m
. More informative are considerations of
MPPNB and LPPNB room sizes, since we have strong evidence for
feasting in these periods, not to mention multiple and hearth-con-
taining non-domestic buildings. Rough calculations
of the size of
Table 8
Bos proportions through time at individual sites
Jericho 6.4 11.7 — — Clutton-Brock (1979)
Nahal Oren 1.6 2.4 — — Legge, in Noy et al. (1973)
‘Ain Ghazal
(1982–1993 sample) — 8.3 5.7 7.1 Köhler-Rollefson et al. (1993)
(1993–1995 sample) — 3.3 (late MPPNB–early LPPNB) 3.7 (LPPNB) 4.4 (LPPNB/PPNC) 3.8 von den Driesch and Wodtke (1997)
Wadi Shu’eib — — 5.1 4.7 Simmons et al. (2001)
The differences between the two ‘Ain Ghazal data sets are attributable to (a) analysis of remains from different excavation areas, and (b) differential analytic methods (see von
den Driesch and Wodtke, 1997, pp. 511–514). Both assemblages were large (1982–1993, NISP = 10,516; 1993–1995, NISP = 15,227), but the 1982–1993 LPPNB sample
included only 914 bones, so sampling error may be a factor there.
Room size was measured using plans in Byrd (1994). Unfortunately, only the two
latest non-domestic buildings (Buildings 8 and 9) have fully planned room outlines;
the areas of the others were estimated on the basis of perhaps 50% of their perimeters.
K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442 435
the main rooms in MPPNB Beidha’s special buildings do not indicate
much increase in capacity until the site’s very latest phase (transi-
tional to the LPPNB). The earliest non-domestic building had ca.
45 m
of floor space, and Byrd reports that subsequent non-domestic
structures are only ‘‘slightly larger” (Byrd, 1994, p. 652, Figs. 3 and
5). Then, with the construction of Building 8, the main room ‘‘more
than doubled in size” from its predecessor; additionally, the only
moderately smaller ‘‘second room or veranda . . . became a formal
and integral component of the building” (Byrd, 1994, p. 656) and
might have held a small overflow crowd. Interestingly, the hearths
in these buildings were of fairly consistent size throughout (Kirk-
bride, 1966); seating space increased, but the scale of cooking facil-
ities did not.
The myriadLPPNB special structures vary insize, fromtiny circu-
lar structures (ca. 5 m
in internal area, with 0.3 m
hearths or altars
occupying their centers), to small apsidal buildings (ca. 11 m
internal area) to large rectangular edifices (Rollefson, 1997). The to-
tal size of the LPPNB‘AinGhazal temple cannot be established, as the
western side of the building did not survive, but it was at least
5.5 Â 6.5 m(35.75 m
). The eastern room, which contains the build-
ing’s hearth as well as other features, is roughly 22.75 m
1998a). No PPNC special buildings have been published.
We thus see a general increase in the scale of feasting from the
PPNA to the latest MPPNB, followed by variability in the LPPNB.
Unfortunately, the scale of PPNC feasting is currently impossible
to assess. Not only did feasting become more common as popula-
tions grew and society became increasingly complex, feasts them-
selves probably became larger. They may also have become
increasingly differentiated, especially in the LPPNB, with varyingly
sized subsets of the population able to attend events in different
structures. The latest MPPNB–LPPNB increase in special structures’
maximum size even as truly tiny ones were also being constructed
is particularly suggestive of social complexity, and perhaps even an
internally differentiated elite population.
Discussion: feasting in an early agricultural society
Competition and integration
Feasts are inherently polysemic, arenas of simultaneous compe-
tition and integration. They are thus doubly suited to early agricul-
tural societies such as the southern Levantine PPN, in which the
development of food production commonly brought with it not
only expanding populations but also increasing economic diversi-
fication and social differentiation. As individual and household
interests diverged, social tensions would have increased, and
mechanisms would have been needed to maintain a degree of so-
cial cohesion. At the same time, individuals and groups presumably
wanted to advance their own causes, and feast-hosting is often a
key strategy in the acquisition and maintenance of political capital
(Dietler, 2001). Feasts would have served both the public interest
in integration and the private interest in competition and
The increases in scale, intensity, and complexity of feasting
from the PPNA into the MPPNB and LPPNB, and their probable de-
cline in the PPNC, are in general accordance with this model. Festal
polysemy is likely to have functioned differently in these different
periods, however, and feasts’ overt as well as implicit meanings
probably altered as the transition to agriculture progressed.
At the origins of agriculture, it appears unlikely that the ability
of feasts to communicate both social integration and social differ-
entiation would have been important. Despite some plant cultiva-
tion, gathering and hunting remained the basis of the southern
Levantine PPNA economy, and no evidence suggests formal socio-
economic differentiation. Boundaries between public and private
spaces were fluid, and public food preparation common (Wright,
2000), so there would have been little need for feasts specifically
to bring the small communities together. Mortuary evidence also
suggests deliberate de-emphasis of social distinctions (Kuijt,
1996), which would seem to preclude significant competitive
Yet it is because of this intentional suppression of overt compe-
tition that feasts in particular would have been a promising avenue
for social advancement. ‘‘In societies with an egalitarian political
ethos, the self-interested manipulative nature of [feasting] may
be concealed or euphemized by the fact that it is carried out
through the socially valued and integrated institution of generous
hospitality” (Dietler, 2001, p. 79). A hunter might gain prestige and
improve his political standing by providing an aurochs for a village
feast, but the overtly communal nature of the experience would
allow him to avoid charges of inappropriate ambition. Such
concealed maneuvering may well have been the only socially
appropriate mode of competition at the dawn of agriculture, when
communities were just beginning to grow and wild resources to be
brought under human control, thus raising for the first time the
possibility of pronounced socioeconomic differentiation.
With the growth and diversification of the agricultural economy
in the MPPNB and again in the LPPNB, combined with the corre-
sponding rises in settlement size and inter-household differentia-
tion, a need arose for effective integrative mechanisms. Feasting
became a leveling mechanism in fact as well as in presentation,
and as society became increasingly diverse the demand for it
would have accelerated. This demand was presumably deepened
by the political capital accruing to feast hosts. It is possible that
overt ambition remained taboo, but minor differences in mortuary
treatments suggest embryonic acceptance of social distinctions in
the MPPNB, and considerably more in the LPPNB (Bienert et al.,
2004; Kuijt and Goring-Morris, 2002). Feasts may therefore have
become increasingly explicitly diacritical as the Neolithic pro-
gressed. They might even have created a feedback loop, wherein
the political component of some feasts enhanced social divisions,
thereby increasing the need for integration and further feasting.
(If the PPNC’s disaggregation was the result of the ultimate failure
of LPPNB social mechanisms to maintain cohesion (Kuijt, 2004),
however, then perhaps feasting’s competitive element proved
more powerful than its integrative one.) Nonetheless, in a society
new to socioeconomic differentiation and presumably still wary
of it, the ability of feasts to mask their competitive power behind
their very real integrative function could only have enhanced their
That feasting was of great social importance among early agri-
culturalists, and that its importance increased along with social
complexity, is not merely a matter of conjecture. The amount of
communal effort expended on PPNB feasting testifies to the value
placed on it. For the cattle feast of Kfar HaHoresh, the community
killed eight aurochsen, butchered them, and transported their
remains back to the site, producing over 2000 kg of meat (Gor-
ing-Morris and Horwitz, 2007). Beidha’s non-domestic buildings,
probable feasting locales, became increasingly distinguished from
the site’s domestic structures as time wore on: construction and
renovation of Building 8 alone involved at least 11,250 kg of lime,
produced using perhaps 45,000 tons of wood (Byrd, 1994, p. 336).
It is unfortunate that the PPNC feasting data are so inconclusive,
as the trajectory of feasting practice during an era of disaggrega-
tion is of great interest. One may hypothesize that feasting became
less important, as smaller settlements required less integration,
but public construction and mortuary differentiation suggest that
political maneuvering and labor mobilization might have moti-
vated hosts. The limited data we have do suggest a general decline
in the scale as well as frequency of feasting, which may support the
interpretation of the PPNC as less socially complex than previous
eras, while the apparent east–west split in feasting behavior
436 K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442
implies a geographical distinction in social organization and ac-
cords well with the PPNC’s status as transitional into the more
regionalized Late Neolithic. However, better understanding of
PPNC feasting awaits new data.
Feasts and the ancestors
Little can be said about the occasions on which Neolithic feasts
were held. Unlike Neolithic Anatolia, where the regular use of cattle
crania, horns and scapulae as architectural elements suggests that
feasts (or at least their memorabilia) were commonly linked with
house construction (Russell and Martin, 2005), parallel evidence
for an association between feasting and household cycles is scarce
inthesouthernLevant. However, at least somePPNBandPPNCfeast-
ing appears related to mortuary activity. Both the MPPNB Kfar HaH-
oresh and the LPPNB Basta cattle feast remains were found in close
proximity to human remains, while suid remains that could repre-
sent feast leftovers were used as grave furniture at PPNC ‘Ain Gha-
Indeed, at Kfar HaHoresh few grave goods apart from animal
remains were found (Goring-Morris, 2000). Portions included in the
graves include both crania and meatier bones. Rich botanical and fau-
nal assemblages are alsoassociatedwithhumanremains insidethe M/
LPPNB circular building at Tell Aswad, and excavators believe that a
stone plate found on a LPPNB room floor at Basta ‘‘is probably linked
to the burial found on the floor there” (Nissen et al., 1987, p. 91; Stor-
deur, 2003). Such deposits suggest funerary feasting.
Elaborate funerary ceremonialism is often linked in the PPN, as
elsewhere, to ancestor worship
(Cauvin, 2000; Kenyon, 1957; Kuijt,
1996). Such worship was originally attributed to the veneration of
patriarchal ancestors (see Bonogofsky, 2003), but recently, more the-
oretically and ethnographically informed analyses have connected it
more broadly to an interest in lineage continuity (Hodder, 2001, p.
111) and to communal integration via the construction of collective
memories and identities (Kuijt, 1996; Kuijt, 2004). Such perspectives
contextualize mortuary ceremonialism within early village life: line-
age continuity would have become of concern in tandem with the
development of household production and private ownership of re-
sources, and communal cohesion with the evolution of large, com-
plex settlements. Both interests may have been served
simultaneously at mortuary feasts, as shared funerary celebrations
can reinforce communal bonds even as they center around individu-
als from specific households (Kuijt, 1996). They thus intertwine pub-
lic and private interests in precisely the manner I have argued would
have been important to early farmers.
Transformations of value: cattle feasting, symbolism, and
Feasts are remarkably well-suited to the endowment of social
meaning and value, as they expose large segments of society to
new concepts simultaneously, and under conditions in which
impressions are likely to be made deeply (Wiessner, 2001). During
feasting, certain foods or objects are centers of attention: featured
culinarily, displayed during ceremonies, or publicly exchanged. In
this manner, feasts have been shown to play a role in endowing
animals with ideological significance (Wiessner, 2001).
Cattle’s role as prime PPN feasting food may therefore at least
partly explain their ideological prominence. As the likely center-
pieces of many early Neolithic feasts, it is all but inevitable that the
cattle would have acquired new meanings and status. Whether or
not the status acquired in this fashion was enough to account for
the origins of bovine symbolic primacy, it is clear that such status
would have been reinforced by cattle’s role in feasts. Once this sta-
tus was established, the inclusion of cattle would have emphasized
the symbolic importance of feasts in return.
It is even possible that an emphasis on cattle as feasting food
had profound economic consequences. I suggested previously that
the PPNB rise in cattle proportions was attributable not simply to
their domestication but to a feasting-inspired increase in the social
demand for them. Pushing this idea still further, it has been sug-
gested vis-à-vis diachronic changes in bovine age and sex profiles
at Neolithic Çatalhöyük that intensification of cattle feasting might
have been a key factor in the animals’ domestication, in order to
ameliorate pressures on the wild herds (Russell and Martin,
2005). Ritual use may also have provided a motive for the domes-
tication of African cattle as well as Indian mithan (Bos frontalis)
(Marshall and Hildebrand, 2002; Simoons and Simoons, 1968, p.
233). While cattle were not indigenously domesticated in the
southern Levant, it is possible that the regional introduction and
acceptance of herded animals was either hastened or retarded by
the social significance of their wild brethren. I do not suggest that
feasting motivated all domestications (contra Hayden, 1990, 2003),
but multiple lines of evidence identify cattle as feast food both be-
fore (MPPNB) and during/after (LPPNB) their domestication, so a
correlation is eminently plausible.
Feasting and other forums for social negotiation
I have argued that feasting allowed PPN agriculturalists to
simultaneously ameliorate communal tensions and maneuver
for personal gain. I have further contended that these complex
negotiations were of great socioeconomic and symbolic impor-
tance to early agriculturalists. However, feasting would not have
been early villagers’ only forum for social negotiation. Two pre-
viously suggested forums are dance and community mortuary
ritual (Garfinkel, 2003; Kuijt, 1996, 2000a). Because dance, ritual,
and feasting are all intertwined, many (but not all) of the same
data inform about all three spheres, and the social interpreta-
tions derived from each data set are not independent. Nonethe-
less, it is valuable to examine the extent to which the aggregated
feasting data conflict or agree with data from these other
Garfinkel (2003) has proposed that early farming villages bound
themselves together socially through public ceremonies involving
group dances. He argues that dancing (like feasting) gains power
from its commingling of the sensory and the symbolic, its literal
embodiment of cultural mores, and is thus able to draw communi-
ties together, communicate cultural norms, and reinforce the social
order. Garfinkel’s model is ethnographically justifiable, as dancing
is cross-culturally important in ritual (Wright, 2005), but he is able
to cite only the ambiguous Dhuweila carving as PPN evidence for it.
Given the common ethnographic association between feasting and
performance, this research suggests that (a) early farmers’ dancing
may be perceptible via feasting evidence, (b) it may not have
served a solely integrative function, and (c) its importance as well
as its emically perceived meanings probably changed as the Neo-
lithic progressed.
Communal mortuary ritual may also have fostered social inte-
gration. Secondary mortuary rituals are commonly public events
that ‘‘crosscut kin and household lines, thereby emphasizing the
community over the individual” (Kuijt, 2000a, p. 145). PPNA mor-
tuary ritual consistently involved the reopening of adults’ simple
primary burials for secondary skull removal (Kuijt, 1996). Collec-
tive mortuary ritual expanded significantly in the MPPNB: some
It is interesting that the animal found in Epipaleolithic burials (i.e., dogs (Davis
and Valla, 1978; Tchernov and Valla, 1997)) is not primarily valued as food, whereas
the taxa placed in PPN graves are gazelle, aurochs, boar, and fox (which was eaten in
the PPN) (Goring-Morris, 2000; Rollefson, 2000).
It would be more accurate to term it a cult of the dead (Fortes, 1965), but
‘‘ancestor worship” is the commonly used term in the PPN. This is also why I use
‘‘lineage” rather than ‘‘house” (contra Gillespie, 2001).
K.C. Twiss / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27 (2008) 418–442 437
of the removed skulls were plastered and decorated, and some cul-
tic paraphernalia (including skulls) were cached, frequently in
extramural (i.e., public) contexts (Kuijt, 2000a). Grave goods were
not added to the burials, as would be expected if this ritual elabo-
ration were overtly competitive in nature, but the selection of cer-
tain individuals’ skulls for caching and plastering does reflect some
social differentiation (Kuijt, 2000a, 2004). Cranial deformation of
some skulls also indicates intragroup differentiation. Secondary
cranial removal continued into the LPPNB; it is unknown whether
the proportion of adults selected for special treatment changed
from the MPPNB (Kuijt, 2004). Finally, in the PPNC, secondary mor-
tuary ceremonies declined dramatically (Galili et al., 2005; Rollef-
son and Köhler-Rollefson, 1993).
The mortuary data thus agree with the feasting data in indicat-
ing a dramatic PPNA–MPPNB increase in mechanisms simulta-
neously expressing social integration and differentiation, as well
as continuity from the MPPNB into the LPPNB. The mortuary data
then diverge from the feasting data in strongly suggesting a precip-
itous drop in such mechanisms during the PPNC. Assuming that
this intriguing difference is not a product of the limited PPNC mor-
tuary sample—virtually all data come from either ‘Ain Ghazal (14
undisturbed interments) or Atlit Yam (46 interments)—two possi-
bilities arise. The first is that PPNC people abandoned secondary
mortuary ceremonialism as a forum for social integration and dif-
ferentiation, but continued to use feasting as such a forum. A de-
crease in the need for both integration and differentiation is
consistent with the PPNC decline in settlement size and material
complexity, and so feasting alone might have sufficed for this pur-
pose. Alternatively, it is possible that during the LPPNB–PPNC tran-
sition mortuary ceremonialism and feasting served different social
purposes, and in the PPNC people abandoned mechanisms used
primarily for social integration (mortuary ritual) but retained those
with a prominent competitive element (feasting). This accords
with the PPNC’s small settlement sizes, which suggest a decreased
need for coresidential integration. It is also consistent with the
PPNC’s impressive public constructions and mortuary variability,
which suggest interest in labor mobilization and social differentia-
tion. At present, however, too many variables remain unknown for
us to choose between these options and their different implica-
tions regarding the trajectory of Neolithic social complexity. Addi-
tional research is particularly needed to ascertain whether the
mortuary/feasting difference is real or whether it is a product of
small data sets, and to establish whether any other forum for social
negotiation might have become important in the PPNC, replacing
mortuary ceremonialism.
No single criterion is uniquely diagnostic of feasting: its identi-
fication requires convergence among multiple data sets. In the
southern Levant, such convergences indicate that feasting in-
creased as the transition to agriculture progressed, populations
grew, and the foundations of socioeconomic complexity were laid.
These trajectories were interrupted midway through the Neolithic:
feasting practices clearly changed as population agglomeration
lessened, but more data are needed to ascertain the extent to
which these changes constitute a decline. In the meantime, feast-
ing helped enable the development of increasingly dense and
internally complex communities, influenced symbolic beliefs, and
perhaps accelerated the adoption of domesticated cattle.
Analysis of feasting practices across the southern Levantine Pre-
Pottery Neolithic sheds light not only on PPN social structure but
also on the ways in which that structure was both maintained
and altered during the long transition from hunting and gathering
to agriculture. At a time of profound cultural shifts, the scale and
social significance of feasting changed in tandem with population
agglomeration, cultural complexity, and ideology. A dialectic ex-
isted between feasting and these broader developments, as feasts
fostered integration, abetted competition, contributed to symbolic
and economic advances, and generally helped create the conditions
for social life at the dawn of agriculture.
These results suggest further research on three fronts. First,
additional Levantine Neolithic data are needed in order to clarify
the nature of feasting in the PPNC and to deepen our understand-
ing of social life throughout the period.
Second, feasting practices in other early agricultural societies
should be investigated. Feasting may well have been as important
a socioeconomic phenomenon in these cultures as in the PPN, since
the polysemy of feasting makes it generally well-suited for social
negotiation among non-state agriculturalists. Indeed, studies using
some (but not all) of the criteria developed here have already sug-
gested that feasting played a key role in the socioeconomic devel-
opment of several non-state agricultural societies. At the Middle
Formative (ca. 900–800 BCE) site of Cuauhtémoc in Mexico, for
example, during the era when maize was adopted as a staple crop,
faunal exploitation narrowed considerably, and political central-
ization and stratification grew, an increase in feasting may have
‘‘mitigate[d] the socially divisive forces associated with institution-
alizing a high level of social stratification” (Rosenswig, 2007, p. 22).
Feasting may also have contributed to the development of social
complexity in areas and cultures as diverse as Neolithic China,
Neolithic Greece, the Puebloan American Southwest, and the Mis-
sissippian American Southeast (Blitz, 1993; Kim, 1994, p. 129;
Mills, 2007; Potter, 2000; Pappa et al., 2004). Trajectories to agri-
culture varied considerably between regions: investigations of
feasting practices in different areas would shed light on interre-
gional variability in the social structures accompanying the origins
of food production.
Finally, there is call for further exploration of archaeological
feasting criteria. Additional ethnoarchaeological work is needed
to compare and contrast feasting among populations in different
environments, with diverse subsistence adaptations, and with
varying degrees of mobility. The existing ethnohistorical and eth-
nographic records may also be plumbed for additional criteria.
Delving more deeply into these literatures might enable archaeol-
ogists to prioritize among the various criteria on the basis of fre-
quency of appearance, diagnostic strength, or reliability of
ethnographic source.
I am grateful to O. Bar-Yosef and L. K. Horwitz for information
about Netiv Hagdud and to L. K. Horwitz for sharing her and N.
Goring-Morris’s then-unpublished article on Kfar HaHoresh. Par-
ticular thanks go to J. Shea, I. Kuijt, E. Stone, N. Russell, and two
anonymous reviewers for their detailed, insightful, and extremely
helpful comments. All errors are my sole responsibility.
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