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Ancient Ritual Wand in Syria

9,000-year-old ritual wand etched with human faces discovered in Syria

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Archaeologists made an incredibly unique and unusual discovery during excavations at Tel Qarassa, a site in southern Syria, when they unearthed an ancient wand carved with two realistic human faces.  The wand, which was likely used in a long-lost funeral ritual, is one of the only naturalistic depictions of human faces found in Syria from the time period.

The artefact was found in an artificial mound which gradually built up in layers over thousands of years. The layer in which the relic was found dates to approximately 9,000 years. Nearby was a graveyard where about 30 people were buried without their heads – which were found in the living spaces of dwellings found in the vicinity.

The wand was first discovered during excavations in 2007, but for unknown reasons, the finding has only just been published in the journal Antiquity.  An analysis has revealed that the wand, which is 12 centimetres in length, was carved from bone, probably the rib of an auroch, which is the wild ancestor of cows. The wand was intentionally broken at both ends, with more faces likely originally adorning the staff.

"The find is very unusual. It's unique," said study co-author Frank Braemer, an archaeologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France.

The relic's purpose and symbolism remain a mystery. "It's clearly linked to funerary rituals, but what kind of rituals, it's impossible to tell," said Braemer.

The other riddle to solve is why individuals were found buried nearby without their heads. It corresponds to another similar find in Jericho from the same time period in which individuals were buried without their heads, and the skulls were removed, covered with plaster and painted with facial features. The traditional interpretation for the mortuary practice is that the skulls offered a means of preserving and worshiping ancestors.

The plastered skulls of Jericho

The plastered skulls of Jericho.

Featured image: The ancient wand. Photo credit: Ibanez et al, Antiquity, 2014

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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