Face of Man Who Lived 9,500 Years Ago in the Biblical City of Jericho Brought Back to Life
A crew of facial reconstruction experts have successfully recreated the face of a male who lived in the Biblical city of Jericho. The project was based on an advanced analysis of the Jericho Skull - the oldest portrait in The British Museum. This innovative plaster model allows you to see the detailed face of a human being who lived 9,500 years ago.
The Archaeological Significance of Plastered Human Skulls
Plastered human skulls are reconstructed human skulls that were created in the ancient Levant between 7000 and 6000 BC - the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period. Most of the plastered skulls were from adult males, but some belonged to women and children.
According to many historians, this burial practice enlightens us about an early form of ancestor worship. Others, however, claim that the plastered skulls could be linked to the practice of head hunting, and were used as trophies instead.
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Neither of these theories are totally accepted by scholars today, but a general agreement has emerged that the worship of ancestors may be involved. Most experts believe plastered skulls were a significant part of Neolithic rituals involving the removal, decoration, and collection of skulls. Arguably the most notable of the plastered human skulls discovered to date is the “Jericho Skull,” which is among the oldest human remains in the British Museum. It is one of seven Neolithic plastered human skulls found by Kathleen Kenyon during excavations at Jericho in 1953.
The Jericho plastered skull, a Neolithic skull in the British Museum’s collection. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The Jericho Skull’s Identity Remains a Mystery
The Jericho Skull has a face modeled in plaster over the man's real skull. Now, facial reconstruction experts have brought his appearance to life after thousands of years. Even though the man’s identity remains a mystery, many experts believe that he could have been an elite figure, possibly a respected community elder. Alexandra Fletcher, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Curator for the Ancient Near East at The British Museum, told 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."
Side view of the skull undergoing analysis. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
“Creating an ancestor: the Jericho Skull”
The Imaging and Analysis Center at the Natural History Museum used a micro-CT scan on the Jericho Skull to guide the construction of a 3-D digital model, including the bones inside. This is how hidden areas were revealed, such as the shape of his palate, cheekbones, brow ridge, and eye sockets. The scientists discovered that the skull lacked a jaw and the man had broken and decayed teeth. They speculate that he also broke his nose at some point, but it had healed completely before he died.
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Side view of the reconstruction. (Trustees of the British Museum/ RN-DS partnership)
There’s also evidence that the man had undergone tight head binding from early infancy which changed the shape of his skull. The head binding practice adds to evidence that the Jericho skull belonged to a man of elite status. As Fletcher told Seeker:
“Head binding is something that many different peoples have undertaken in various forms around the world until very recently 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.”
The reconstruction will be on display in the exhibit "Creating an ancestor: the Jericho Skull," from December 15, 2016–February 19, 2017 at The British Museum.
Top Image: The facial reconstruction of the Jericho skull. Source: British Museum