Plastered skulls

Due to being sick with mono for the past month I unfortunately missed some of the lectures this semester and am now finally starting to catch back up. As I read through the PowerPoint slides from the past lectures I came upon the slides talking about the pre pottery Neolithic and the slides that involved the plastered skulls. I found these skulls kind of weird but mostly interesting. Having missed the lecture on them I decided to do some further research on my own to try and learn about them as well as figure out what their purpose was.

As I searched through the articles in the MSU libraries catalog I found one that talked a lot about their origins, characteristics, and theories for their existence. I learned that many of these skulls have been found; seventy-three approximately, in Jordan, Syria, Israel, and Turkey. They have had many different substances applied to them such as plaster, marl, animal collagen, shell and paint. These were applied in order to imitate facial or other features. Many of the skulls have been found in groups without the rest of their skeletons which made it hard for identify the sex of them. But we now know that they range for adult males and females to even children. Because of the lack of the postcranial skeleton many scholars assumed that this practice was evidence of ancestor cult worship. They assumed that the skulls belonged to toothless men who were elders and community leaders. This promoted the notion of the worship of old men and the importance of males in Neolithic society. However, due to recent scientific analyses this theory cannot be true because it contradicts the new evidence that these skulls also belonged to adult females and children. The skulls have been found in a variety of locations from abandoned house to caves to graves. Many of the skulls have been found with objects that have decorative and practical functions. It is speculated that these may have been included with the skulls because of their importance or usefulness to the dead and that they may have been needed in the afterlife. Because of the various locations and contexts as well as the recovery of funerary offerings it is suggested that they held multiple functions. Some of these may have included use as fertility devices or devices to ward off evil, or as mementos of the dead. All of the evidence found taken together doesn’t support the interpretation of a form of ancestor worship. But instead it supports that they were used in a type of funeral ritual.

2 thoughts on “Plastered skulls

  1. Allison Apland

    I also wrote my blog post about the plastered skulls, so I think it’s really interesting that the same thing stood out to both of us. I like that you were looking at different sources than I was because you covered different aspects of the skull mystery than I did. It’s crazy how one analysis can change the whole interpretation of the skulls’ significance. Worshiping important men in the community is a lot different from honoring the dead in general. Their belief system is very different from what was originally thought.
    I wonder if there are any other trends that connect the skulls. It seems that we now know being an old man is not the characteristic that brings them together. Was there a plastered skull for everyone and not all have been recovered, or did only certain people get plastered skulls? Maybe this is evidence of social inequality, and only some people received this special treatment. Another possibility is that these were people with special religious significance or somehow earned the privilege of having a plastered skull.
    Also, I would be interested to know not only what the skulls say about the people who have died. They meant something to the people who made them and kept them. Were they used in some fashion for special rituals or were they simply kept to remember the deceased? You mentioned some interesting suggestions about what they could mean, and I wonder if there is any way to narrow that down. It might just be one of those mysteries that we have to speculate about.

  2. Ciera Uyeunten

    From lecture, I found this topic extremely interesting and intriguing finding that after an individual’s body would decay, they would remove their skull and cover it in plaster as a way to somewhat reconstruct and preserve that individual’s facial features. I find it really interesting how they actually plaster the skull to directly replicate that person’s features, even going so far as to put inlays of shells or sometimes even stone to depict or represent that individual’s eyes. The fact that they did this and would smooth and flatten the underside of the skull so the recently deceased person could be displayed in their mourning family’s home creating a shrine or memorial was somewhat of a weird thought to me. Just thinking about having a family members skull sitting in my living room and having to look at it everyday, slightly freaks me out. Also, the thought or idea that they did this intentionally so that images of the dead could be seen by their living relatives and any other individuals that would visit their home, does not seem like the most decorative and “homey” piece of art, to place in your home. Its also interesting how this was considered their type of burial at that time. Now, we are so used to either burying our loved ones in a coffin or cremating them and spreading their ashes that the thought of having a former living person’s skull in my house, on display for everyone, does not sit very well with me. Overall, it was a very interesting read and well chosen topic.

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