Skulls fleshed out with plaster 9,500 years ago, found from Israel to Turkey, are among the oldest portraits known and are now believed to be linked to the rise of civilization.
Dozens of skulls fleshed out with plaster nearly 10,000 years ago in an area from Israel to southern Turkey, are among the oldest human portraits known.
Their purpose remains a mystery, but researchers now argue that they were part of a vast ancestor cult, that contributed to the successful rise of the first complex societies in the Neolithic period.
Since last week, visitors at the British Museum in London have been able to look upon the face of a man who lived some 9,500 years ago in Jericho, one of the world’s earliest known cities.
Archaeologists from the British museum have reconstructed an ancient man’s face, allowing visitors to see what he looked like for the first time.
The man lived 9,500 years ago in the holy city of Jericho, now found in the Palestinian territories near the West Bank.
The ‘Jericho skull’ was found by British archaeologists in 1953, but until now nobody knew what the he had looked like.
Scientists still don’t know the man’s true identity, but they speculate that he was once someone of great importance.
This is based on the amount of care people had taken to fill his skull with plaster once he had died, almost 10,000 years ago.
Back then, plastered skulls were a form of ritual burial, like the Egyptians’ infamous mummification burials.
The gruesome practice involved removing the corpse’s skull and filling it with plaster, before painting over the dead person’s face and filling his eye sockets with shells.
These remains were likely put on display for locals while the rest of the body was buried under the family home.
The Jericho skull was found nestled alongside several other plastered skulls, but was by far the most well-preserved of the group.
Before the reconstruction, the ancient skull showed few human features due to the plaster pasting over most of its features.
Plastered skulls were a traditional form of ritual burial in Jericho at the time. Pictured here is the original Jericho skull, with the darker regions showing the plaster stuffed into the severed head. Shells were placed in each of the man’s eye sockets after death.
To investigate the grim burial practice, the scientists sent the skull off for a scan at the Imaging and Analysis Centre at London’s Natural History Museum. Pictured here is the plaster skull partway through reconstruction, revealing the man’s skull shape and teeth.
Here, a complete micro-CT scan unveiled a ream of new information about the skull, and inspired the Museum to undertake a full plaster reconstruction. This image shows the plast skull midway through the build, showcasing the ancient man’s muscle and tissue build.
To investigate the grim burial practice, the scientists sent the skull off for a scan at the Imaging and Analysis Centre at London’s Natural History Museum.
Here, a complete micro-CT scan unveiled a ream of new information about the skull, and inspired the Museum to undertake a full plaster reconstruction.
Through the CT scans, the team discovered that the ancient man was missing a jaw underneath the plaster, and had lines of decaying teeth.
They could see he had suffered a broken nose at some point in his life.
He had also undergone head-binding, a traditional practice in which the skull of a human being is deformed intentionally, usually by forcefully distorting a child’s skull.
Through the CT scans, the team discovered that the ancient man was missing a jaw underneath the plaster, and had lines of decaying teeth. Pictured here is the CT scan showing the extent of the skull’s plaster filling (the darker material).
This image shows the CT scan with the clay removed from the image, giving a more detailed view of the man’s jaw and face.
All of the newly gathered details allowed the team to make an accurate plaster reconstruction of the man’s head.
And while the fascinating new model provides fresh insight into the man’s life, plenty more work needs to be done to discover more about his history and culture.
The team hopes to gather DNA samples from the skull in future, laying out 10,000 year-old genes for investigation.
The mummy’s reconstructed face will be on display at the British Museum in London from next Thursday until mid-February.