Plastered human skulls

Plastered human skulls are reconstructed human skulls that were made in the ancient Levant 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]

Plastered human skulls
Plastered skull, Tell es-Sultan, Jericho, c. 9000 BC
MaterialPlaster and bone
Created9000–6000 BC
Present locationLevant


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

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.

Further reading

  • D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
  • J.N. Tubb, Canaanites (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)
  • German, Senta. “The Neolithic Revolution.” Khana Academy.
  • Strouhal, E. Five Plastered Skulls from Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Jericho: Anthropological Study Paléorient 1:1-2 (1973): 231-247.
  • Mazar, Amihai (1990). Archaeology of the land of the Bible (1st ed.). New York: Doubleday. ISBN 038523970X.


  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."
  3. "TREASURES | Ashmolean Museum". Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  4. "MAA - Features". Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  5. The British Museum. "Plastered Skull."
  6. German, Senta. "The Neolithic Revolution."
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