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Ancient funerary facial reconstruction

Photo from HumanPast of Plaster Skulls from PPNB

Photo from HumanPast of Plaster Skulls from PPNB

The people of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (7000-6000 BCE) culture in the Southern Levant had a mortuary practice of removing the skulls of deceased family members and remodeling them with plaster.

After the body of a family member was decapitated the flesh and mandible (jaw bone) were removed.  So that the plastered crania retained the identity of the family member, facial features were molded out of plaster and individual facial characteristics were painted on with red and black paint.   The eye orbits were inlaid with shells and the crania were decorated with hair and mustaches.

These reconstructed skulls have been found in excavations in Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Jericho.  The best known examples of plaster skulls are known as the skulls of Jericho and date to between 7000 and 6000 BCE.  They were discovered by Kathleen Kenyon during excavations in 1953 at a site now in the State of Palestine.  One of the skulls of Jericho is displayed at the British Museum.

Photo via the University of Texas; Plaster Skull unearthed from Jericho.

Though most of the plaster skulls unearthed have been male, archaeologists have also discovered plastered skulls belonging to women and children.   This practice had ritual and economic functions such as ancestor worship and may have also been a way to establish land rights.  According to the British Museum, these are some of the earliest sculpture examples of portraiture.


Bones Don’t Lie

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British Museum


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