Palestian Embroidery, £10.99
Height: 20.300 cm
Width: 14.600 cm
Excavated by Dame Kathleen Kenyon, British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem
From Jericho, Israel, about 7000-6000 BC
Reconstructing the face of the dead
By about 7000 BC Jericho, based on a natural spring, had developed into a large settlement which may have contained as many as two thousand individuals, and was defended by a substantial wall. The dead were often buried beneath the floors of houses. In some instances the bodies were complete, but in others the skull was removed and treated separately, with the facial features reconstructed in plaster.
The removal of the skull from the body and its separate burial was widely practised in the Levant during the seventh millennium BC. As in this example, the lower jaw was often removed and then, carefully and sensitively, the skull was remodelled with plaster to build up the facial features. Shells, either cowries or, as here, bivalves, were set into the empty sockets to represent the eyes. The skull was decorated with red and black paint to depict individual characteristics such as hair and even moustaches.
It is possible that this practice was part of an ancestor cult. Similarly plastered skulls have been found at sites in Palestine, Syria and Jordan.
D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
J.N. Tubb, Canaanites (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)