Heady Business

Skulls, Heads, and Decapitation in Neolithic Anatolia and Greece


  • Lauren E. Talalay University of Michigan




decapitation, Anatolian wall paintings


Bodily dismemberment—particularly decapitation—appears in the iconography and mortuary practices of many ancient societies. A powerful and complex cultural statement, decapitation has been explored in some depth by archaeologists working in the prehistoric Levant and contiguous regions of the Near East. Very little research, however, has focused on the notion of headlessness and decapitation throughout the rest of the prehistoric Mediterranean. Some limited examples appear in the artistic traditions and burial practices of Anatolia and Greece; Anatolian wall paintings depict headless individuals, Neolithic burials in both regions produce skulls placed in specially designated locations, and select figurines appear to be designed with detachable heads. This paper gathers together some of the disparate information on headless bodies and bodiless heads from Anatolia and Greece, and offers preliminary conclusions on the range of their possible functions and meanings.

Author Biography

Lauren E. Talalay, University of Michigan

Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan, 434 South State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1390, USA



How to Cite

Talalay, L. E. (2007). Heady Business: Skulls, Heads, and Decapitation in Neolithic Anatolia and Greece. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 17(2), 139–163. https://doi.org/10.1558/jmea.