Jericho Skull
c.8000 – 7000 BC
Ancient Jericho, West Bank (formerly Jordan)

Gallery 32, Ancient Near East


Focus on the Object

The skull once formed the basis of a sculpture. On the surface of the skull there are the remains of clay and plaster. It was made over 9,000 years ago. Then we would have seen little or none of the skull itself. Clay was built up around the skull and then plaster was applied to provide a smooth surface.

Two cowrie shells were set horizontally into the eye sockets creating a ‘sleepy expression’ which resonates through to the present day. It is thought that the jaw bone was removed intentionally and that the clay would have been built up to create a neat artificial chin. The plasterwork does not extend over the back of the skull, which was perhaps originally provided with some other material to look like hair.

What was its purpose?
Separation of the skull was a common practice amongst the early farming populations of the Levant. This example was found, together with six other skulls in a pile beneath the floor of a house. It is suggested that the heads preserved were those of venerated ancestors. They were kept for some sort of ancestor worship and then discarded after a generation or two.