Plastered human skulls

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Plastered human skulls
Plastered skull from Jericho 12741-42.jpg
Plastered skull, Tell es-Sultan, Jericho, c. 9000 BC in the British Museum
MaterialPlaster and bone
Created9000–6000 BC
Present locationLevant

Plastered human skulls are human skulls covered in layers of plaster, typically found in the ancient Levant, most notably around the modern Palestinian city of Jericho, between 9,000 and 6,000 BC, in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period. They represent some of the oldest forms of art in the Middle East and demonstrate that the prehistoric population took great care in burying their ancestors below their homes. The skulls denote some of the earliest sculptural examples of portraiture in the history of art.[1]


One skull was accidentally unearthed in the 1930s by the archaeologist John Garstang at Jericho, in the West Bank. A number of plastered skulls from Jericho were discovered by the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s and can now be found in the collections of the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum, the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Nicholson Museum in Sydney and the Jordan Archaeological Museum.[2][3][4]

Other sites where plastered skulls were excavated include Ain Ghazal and Amman, Jordan, and Tell Ramad, Syria.[5] Most of the plastered skulls were from adult males, but some belonged to women and children.

Archaeological significance[edit]

The plastered skulls represent some of the earliest forms of burial practices in the southern Levant. During the Neolithic period, the deceased were often buried under the floors of their homes.[5] Sometimes the skull was removed, and its cavities filled with plaster and painted. In order to create more lifelike faces, shells were inset for eyes, and paint was used to represent facial features, hair, and moustaches.[5][6]

Some scholars believe that this burial practice represents an early form of ancestor worship, where the plastered skulls were used to commemorate and respect family ancestors.[5] Other experts argue that the plastered skulls could be linked to the practice of head hunting, and used as trophies. Plastered skulls provide evidence about the earliest arts and religious practices in the ancient Near East.



  1. ^ Kleiner, Fred S. (2012). Gardner's Art through the Ages: Backpack Edition. Cengage Learning. p. 42. ISBN 9780840030542.
  2. ^ ROM Collection ROM Images. "Plastered Human Skull." Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "TREASURES | Ashmolean Museum". Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  4. ^ "MAA - Features". Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  5. ^ a b c d The British Museum. "Plastered Skull."
  6. ^ German, Senta. "The Neolithic Revolution."

Further reading[edit]