By Derek Olson
In 1953, archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon unearthed something very strange on the desert plains of Jericho – this 9,000 year old elongated skull covered with plaster that features eye-sockets inlaid with cowrie shells. Archaeologists believe it to belong to what they call the “Pre-Pottery Neolithic Period” dating somewhere between 7,300 – 6,300 B.C.
Now on display at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at England’s university of Oxford, this enigmatic skull belonged to an adult male and shows evidence of cranial deformation. Plaster was carefully molded over the front of the skull but does not extend over the back of the skull. The skull measures 8.2 inches long and 6.3 inches wide.
Cowrie shells are found in the Indian ocean, but nowhere near Jericho where the skull was discovered. There is evidence to suggest that Cowrie shells were used as currency during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Period, which may explain how the ancients near Jericho came to possess them.
The significance of this plastered skull within the over-arching picture of world history cannot be understated as there have been only a few of these skulls ever found world-wide. These bizarre plaster skulls have all been typically found in the ancient Levant, most notably around Jericho. They represent some of the oldest forms of art in the Middle East.
Cover Photo credit: @ Ashmolean Museum