The 9,500-year old face ‘behind’ the Jericho Skull is reconstructed by archaeologists

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The plastered human skulls of ancient Levant represent some of the oldest art forms of Middle East, made during some time between 8200 BC and 6000 BC, thus corresponding to the (Pre-Pottery) Neolithic B period. Among them the Jericho Skull (circa 8200-7500 BC) is still counted as the oldest portrait in the British Museum. And now researchers have been able to reconstruct the 9,500-year old face ‘behind’ the Jericho Skull, with the process being documented in the latest issue of British Archaeology.

As we mentioned earlier, the plastered human skulls (having around seven specimens) were discovered in Levant – in what now constitutes the de-facto Palestinian territories, near the Jordan River in the West Bank, by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in 1953. The identity of the Neolithic era man pertaining to the particular Jericho Skull is (obviously) not known, due to lack of written records. However the researchers have hypothesized that the person might have belonged to the elite class. Alexandra Fletcher, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Curator for the Ancient Near East at The British Museum, said (to Seeker) –

He was certainly a mature individual when he died, but we cannot say exactly why his skull, or for that matter the other skulls that were buried alongside him, were chosen to be plastered. It may have been something these individuals achieved in life that led to them being remembered after death.

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Copyright: Trustees of the British Museum. Photo by RN-DS partnership

These other buried individuals in question might have also been relatives of the eminent man, since all the skulls seem to miss their second and third molars, which could hint at a hereditary condition. In any case, micro-CT scan of the Jericho Skull (conducted by researchers at the Imaging and Analysis Center) revealed a lot of ‘internal’ details otherwise hidden by the plastered layer. In fact, the 3D digital model of the skull, made with the aid of the scan, comprised a bevy of face-structural elements, including the shape of his palate, cheekbones, brow ridge and eye sockets. In addition, the experts also noted how the skull lacked a proper jaw, while the man himself had a decayed tooth and broken nose (that healed before his death).

But arguably the most striking detail of the Jericho Skull pertained to how the man probably underwent the practice of head-binding. As Fletcher explained –

Head binding is something that many different peoples have undertaken in various forms around the world until very recently,” Fletcher explained. [The practice of head binding in some modern cultures are intended to] make an individual appear more beautiful. In this case, the bindings have made the top and back of the head broader—different from other practices that aim for an elongated shape. I think this was regarded as a ‘good look’ in Jericho at this time.

As for the origin place of this fascinating Neolithic human ‘object’ in question, the discovery alludes to Jericho, often considered as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, with its fair share of ‘coverage’ in Biblical sources. Now when it comes to historicity, the date of the Jericho skull does not overlap with the Biblical events possibly pertaining to 10th century BC – which corresponds to a much later period.

And since we brought up the scope of history, the reconstruction is still limited to the facial feature, as opposed to covering various facets like the hair and eye colors. The reason for the ‘incompleteness’ of the recreation directly relates to the strict regulations followed by the British Museum when handing ancient objects. To that end, the researchers couldn’t gain access to the broken teeth (and its DNA), with experts concerned about the structural integrity of the plastered human skull.

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The original plastered Jericho Skull. Copyright: The Trustees of the British Museum

Source: Seeker (Discovery News)

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  • Mara Cohen

    Jericho is located in Israel. The Palestinian Authority is presently the Autonomous Governance entity. There is no sovereign nation state called “Palestine”.

    • William Cobra Hart

      absolutely correct. the effort by the world seems to be to sneak the word palestine in any time possible

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