Saturday, 14 January 2017

Face of 9,500-Year-Old Man

Researchers have reverse-engineered the ancient ritual practice that created one of the British Museum's most important artifacts—the Jericho Skull—revealing the face of a man whose remains were decorated and venerated some 9,500 years ago.

The Jericho Skull is also considered the oldest portrait in the museum's collection, and, until recently, its most enigmatic: a truncated human skull covered in worn plaster, with eye sockets set with simple sea shells that stare out blindly from its display case. Now, thanks to digital imaging, 3-D printing, and forensic reconstruction techniques, specialists have recreated the face of the individual inside the Jericho Skull—and it turns out to belong to a 40-something man with a broken nose.

An Unprecedented Discovery

The Jericho Skull is one of seven plastered and ornamented Neolithic skulls excavated by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in 1953 at the site of Tell es-Sultan, near the modern West Bank city of Jericho. The discovery—an archaeological sensation that brought Kenyon international fame—was first reported in National Geographic in December of that year.
"We realized with a thrill of discovery that we were looking at the portrait of a man who lived and died more than 7,000 years ago," Kenyon wrote, describing to Geographic readers the moment that the first skull was revealed. "No archeologist [sic] had even guessed at the existence of such a work of art."

While the seven skulls varied in detail, all had been originally stuffed with soil to support delicate facial bones before wet plaster was applied to create individualized facial features, such as ears, cheeks, and noses. Small marine shells represented eyes, and some skulls bore traces of paint.

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