Saturday, March 15, 2014

9,000 Year Old "Ritual Wand" Carved With Human Faces Found In Syria

Hmmmm....could this practice possibly be related to the carving of stone masks discovered in Israel dating to around the same time???  Both articles make a point of referring to these cultures as being primarily agricultural.

From Live Science Online

Ancient 'Ritual Wand' Etched with Human Faces Discovered in Syria

Source:  A 9,000-year-old wand with a face
carved into it was discovered in Syria.
Credit: Ibanez et al, Antiquity, 2014
Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient staff carved with two realistic human faces in southern Syria.

The roughly 9,000-year-old artifact was discovered near a graveyard where about 30 people were buried without their heads — which were found in a nearby living space.

"The find is very unusual. It's unique," said study co-author Frank Braemer, an archaeologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France. [See Images of the Ancient Wand and Skeletons]

The wand, which was likely used in a long-lost funeral ritual, is one of the only naturalistic depictions of human faces from this time and place, Braemer said.

Ancient site
Researchers first uncovered the wand during excavations in 2007 and 2009 at a site in southern Syria called Tell Qarassa, where an artificial mound made from the debris of everyday human life gradually built up in layers over millennia. (Though many stunning archaeological sites have been looted or bombed since the onset of the Syrian Civil War, this site is in a fairly peaceful area and has so far escaped damage.)

Other archaeological evidence from the site suggests the ancient inhabitants were amongst the world's first farmers, consuming emmer (a type of wheat), barley, chickpeas and lentils, and herding or hunting goats, gazelles, pigs and deer, the authors write in the March issue of the journal Antiquity.

Mysterious wand
After the skeletons and wand were buried, someone seems to have dug up and removed the skulls, placing them in the inhabited portion of the settlement.

The bone wand was likely carved from the rib of an auroch, the wild ancestor of cows, and was about 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) long. Two natural-looking faces, with eyes closed, were carved into the bone, though the wand was intentionally broken at both ends, with more faces likely originally adorning the staff.

The relic's purpose and symbolism remain a mystery. [Considering that Hathor, a cow-headed goddess, was worshipped in ancient Egypt, if I were an archaeologist or anthropologist I'd be looking for links between the areas through ancient migration and/or trading networks.  See also previous post on ancient stone masks discovered in Israel dating to about 9000 BCE.  See, for instance, this post from 2010 and following comments.]

"It's clearly linked to funerary rituals, but what kind of rituals, it's impossible to tell," Braemer told Live Science.

The find marks a transition in culture toward more interest in the human form. Older artifacts typically showed stylized or schematic representations of humans, but realistic depictions of animals. Art unearthed in what is now Jordan and Anatolia from the same time period also employs delicate, natural representations of the human form, suggesting this trend emerged simultaneously in regions throughout the Middle East, Braemer said.

The artistic innovation may have been tied to the emerging desire to create material representations of identity and personhood, the authors write in the paper.

Exactly why someone dug up the skulls and placed them within the living areas of the settlement is also unclear. But archaeologists unearthed similar finds in Jericho, Israel, dating to around 9,000 years ago, where the skulls of ancestors were covered with plaster and painted with facial features, then displayed in living spaces.

One possibility is that the practice was a form of ancestor worship, in which the human faces represented the living presence of supernatural beings in a humanized form.

It's also possible the heads on display were trophies from vanquished enemies, Braemer told Live Science. [Yeah, maybe, but seems more likely to me they were used as oracles.  The same practice is seen thousands of years later in lands settled by the Celts in England, as Robert Graves wrote about in "The White Goddess," for instance.]

Just for fun, check out this Goddesschess blog post from June 2013 about the "Super Moon." 

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