One of the many forms of human interment places the body of the deceased in a jar for burial. Infants and children were inserted into a single jar, while adults were positioned in one large jar or two facing jars. The neck of the jar frequently was removed to facilitate the insertion of an adult body. Jar burial is similar to the Late Bronze–Iron Age practice of anthropoid coffin burial: both employed ceramic vessels to contain (predominantly) primary interments with accompanying mortuary offerings. In contrast to these forms of primary interment, Iron Age Phoenician urn burials have yielded predominantly cremated remains (Tell er-Rugeish, Achziv, Khaldeh), and Chalcolithic and Hellenistic-Byzantine ossuaries encased secondary bone collections (Azor, Ḥaderah).

From the Natufian period through the Middle Bronze Age (c. 10,500–1550 BCE), infants and children were buried in jars or in large jars called pithoi, under house floors or courtyards (Aphek, Ashkelon, Yoqne῾am). During this same period, adolescents and adults were buried in caves or shaft tombs and pit or cist graves (Adeimeh, Bab edh-Dhra῾, Jericho, Shiqmim). Infant jar burials beneath occupation surfaces have been reported from the fifth-millennium Pottery Neolithic site of Sha῾ar ha-Golan. Stillborns, infants, and children up to approximately the age of nine were buried in pithoi at the more southerly sites of Naḥal Besor and Teleilat el-Ghassul during the Chalcolithic period (4300–3300 BCE).

Jar burial was reintroduced beginning in the MB IIA (2000–1500 BCE), when the northern coast and valleys were resettled. As in the earlier periods, children, now with a small number of provisions, including ointment juglets and jewelry, were interred in jars under occupation surfaces (Ashkelon, Yoqne῾am). The introduction of jar burial for adults, which first appeared in the Late Bronze II (1400–1200 BCE), is also attributed to northern influence. Extramural interments of exclusively mature individuals, inserted at the time of death into one or two large jars positioned to form a burial receptacle, have been reported from the four northern sites of Azor, Kefar Yehoshu῾a, Tell el-Far῾ah (North), and Tel Zeror. The forty-year-old man buried at Kefar Yehoshu῾a was provided with flasks, other pottery vessels, a bronze blade, and cuts of sheep, ox, and pig for nourishment.

Jar Burials

JAR BURIALS. Double-pithos burial from Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh. (Courtesy ASOR Archives)

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Jar burial continued through the Iron Age (1200–586 BCE), although with diminishing frequency. Eleven sites yielded jar burials in northern and coastal Cisjordan and on the Transjordanian plateau in Iron I (1200–1000 BCE), for example, at Afula, Amman, and Azor, whereas only six or seven sites provided Iron II examples (1000–586 BCE). Small numbers of children continued to be interred in jars, which were usually buried in cave or chamber tombs along with adolescents and adults.

[See also Burial Techniques. In addition, many of the sites mentioned are the subject of independent entries.]


  • Avi-Yonah, Michael, and Ephraim Stern, eds. Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. 4 vols. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1975–1978.
    Summary of excavations including results of all earlier expeditions to the sites.
  • Ben-Tor, Amnon, ed. The Archaeology of Ancient Israel. Translated by R. Greenberg. New Haven, 1992.
    Collection of essays with differing emphases on the Neolithic through the Iron Age II–III periods.
  • Bloch-Smith, Elizabeth. Judahite Burial Practices and Beliefs about the Dead. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement 123. Sheffield, 1992.
    Summary and comprehensive catalog of the Iron Age burials.
  • Mazar, Amihai. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 10,000–586 B.C.E. New York, 1990.
    Comprehensive, detailed, well-illustrated survey of biblical archaeology, limited only by the traditionalist biblical interpretation.
  • Stern, Ephraim, ed. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. 4 vols. Jerusalem and New York, 1993.
    Supplements Avi-Yonah and Stern (above), with results of more recent excavations and revised interpretations.

Elizabeth Bloch-Smith