Raw is Jericho
December 12, 2016 12:08 PM   Subscribe

"This man’s skull was ritualistically transformed 9,000 years ago in Jericho. To flesh out the features on the so-called Jericho Skull, archaeologists at the British Museum have worked for more than two years to reconstruct the face of a man whose skull had been reshaped by ritual throughout his long life. While he was an infant, his head had been bound tightly with cloth to change its shape. After he died at a ripe old age, his skull was then plastered, decorated, and put on display."
posted by Celsius1414 (32 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love it: British Museum displays reconstructed head to better understand why Neolithic peoples displayed reconstructed head.
posted by Kabanos at 1:01 PM on December 12, 2016 [37 favorites]


Yup, it's heads all the way down.


Interesting tidbit about the walls of Jericho being used to stop flooding rather than defense.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:26 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


So there were eight skulls in total found together, the oldest one eight hundred years earlier than the most recent. That would seem to indicate that there was some persistent habitation and contiguous cultural practices for at least a thousand years or so.

It just boggles my mind, to think that there was something there, and people like us who looked on it and knew its history stretched a thousand years into their past. Like us looking at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe or thinking of the Maori settling Aotearoa.

And if I've got the timeline in my head right, this was when the Persian Gulf was swampy land rather than shallow sea, the British Isles were still attached directly to Continental Europe, the Sahara was a grassy savannah, and five thousand years before Pre-Dynastic Egypt and the beginnings of Sumerian and Indus Valley civilization.
posted by XMLicious at 1:27 PM on December 12, 2016 [16 favorites]


And for those of you who walked in expecting some tidbit of news about Chris Jericho, you just made the list!
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 1:47 PM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Interesting tidbit about the walls of Jericho being used to stop flooding rather than defense.

I'm not sure if you're alluding to the Biblical wall of Jericho, and apologies if you were not, but to be clear this is some 6000 years earlier than that.
posted by aught at 1:48 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if you're alluding to the Biblical wall of Jericho, and apologies if you were not, but to be clear this is some 6000 years earlier than that.

Yep, the article was talking about the original neolithic walls, so both technically and metaphorically antediluvian. ;)
Recent archaeological investigation of Jericho's Neolithic walls shows that they were not used for defense. Based on layers of silt that collected around them, researchers surmise that Jericho's first walls were built to prevent the city from being flooded during the rainy season.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:14 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


posted by Celsius1414 at 14:14

hnnnggg!!!

posted by Celsius1414 at 2:24 PM on December 12, 2016 [38 favorites]


It's amazing that scientists can find a story in little scraps of archaeological evidence.*

And it's amazing how the facial reconstruction brings the story alive to us civilians. All of a sudden, that's not a chunk of bone and dirt; it's a person. We can look upon that face and imagine who they were. I wonder how accurate the facial features are—like, how much is science, and how much is conjecture for the sake of storytelling?


*I realize this is simply How Science Works. Still amazing.
posted by the_blizz at 2:24 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Binding this man's skull when he was an infant caused his head to appear wider from the front. It would not have affected his brain in any way.

Because they didn't have mirrors 9.000 years ago?
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:36 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


you just know Neolithic parenting blogs were always getting into flame wars over when and if to bind your infants' skulls
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:49 PM on December 12, 2016 [21 favorites]


Well, they hadn't invented declawing cats yet.
posted by No-sword at 4:33 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Actually, had they even invented cats?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:40 PM on December 12, 2016


Probably.
posted by Pinback at 6:10 PM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


All I can think about right now is that Head-On commercial. "Apply it right to the scalp!"
posted by Sphinx at 6:58 PM on December 12, 2016


Bonsai Infant?
posted by dr_dank at 7:01 PM on December 12, 2016


Now that's retro-phrenology.
posted by quinndexter at 7:52 PM on December 12, 2016


it's amazing how the facial reconstruction brings the story alive to us civilians. All of a sudden, that's not a chunk of bone and dirt; it's a person. We can look upon that face and imagine who they were. I wonder how accurate the facial features are—like, how much is science, and how much is conjecture for the sake of storytelling?

Facial reconstruction is fairly open to interpretation, as with much of archaeology -- give the same skull to a room full of experts and you'll wind up with a room full of different faces. You can't really reconstruct a face and say "this is exactly what this person looked like when they were alive," but yeah, on some level it makes them into more than just a skull.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how I'd feel if I died and 9,000 years later someone put my skull on display with a different face.
posted by teponaztli at 9:09 PM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, I'm not sure how I'd feel if I died and 9,000 years later someone put my skull on display with a different face.

There should be a reality show where they scan a living person, 3D-print replica skulls, give the skulls to half a dozen different facial reconstructionists, and then film the skull-owner's amused reaction to the results, and give a prize to whomever got closest.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:18 PM on December 12, 2016 [30 favorites]


On the other hand, I'm not sure how I'd feel if I died and 9,000 years later someone put my skull on display with a different face.

After 9000 years with a head full of sand, I don't think you'd mind one way or another.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 9:20 PM on December 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Ah, unintentional pun! The best kind!
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 9:33 PM on December 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


I don't understand why the article says it doesn't affect the brain. Of course it must.

The aesthetic choices of various cultures are strangely random too. This from wikipedia: The Native American group known as the Flathead Indians, in fact, did not practise head flattening, but were named as such in contrast to other Salishan people who used skull modification to make the head appear rounder.
posted by bhnyc at 10:42 PM on December 12, 2016


The Brain Scoop had a video about head binding recently.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:40 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why the article says it doesn't affect the brain. Of course it must.

Why? How?

(Or am I assuming "...functioning of the brain." while you're assuming "...shape of the brain."?)
posted by Leon at 4:43 AM on December 13, 2016


the oldest one eight hundred years earlier than the most recent.

I read that as the error range of the dating of the skulls. Did I miss something?
posted by pompomtom at 4:44 AM on December 13, 2016


I don't understand why the article says it doesn't affect the brain. Of course it must.
Given that you can literally remove half a child's brain and they will still be cognitively intact, have intact memory and still be able to walk, this is serious small potatoes. The shape will be different. The lilkihood of functional difference is pretty much zilch.

And if I've got the timeline in my head right, this was when the Persian Gulf was swampy land rather than shallow sea, the British Isles were still attached directly to Continental Europe, the Sahara was a grassy savannah, and five thousand years before Pre-Dynastic Egypt and the beginnings of Sumerian and Indus Valley civilization.
There were still wooly mammoths around, though this is around the time that the last mainland wooly mammoths died out (leaving some populations on isolated islands).
posted by Vortisaur at 7:27 AM on December 13, 2016


After 9000 years with a head full of sand, I don't think you'd mind one way or another.

I think it's a kind of erasure, though. I mean it's one thing to have a purely speculative illustration of people in that time period to show how they dressed and so on. But by taking someone's skull and saying "science tells us this is what this person looked like," we're wrapping up a person's entire life into this one speculative depiction, based on one moment of their life as we interpret it (I mean, what age do you choose to depict them at? Why that age and not another?). Yeah, skulls can't object, but at the same time, they're much more than just objects. The ritual treatment that skull got was important to that person's family and society, and I always feel a little uneasy when we take a person's remains and turn them into a teaching tool for ourselves.

Obviously not everyone agrees with this, and I know I'm at more of an extreme end of this than other people, but you know, just a different perspective.
posted by teponaztli at 10:12 AM on December 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


There should be a reality show where they scan a living person, 3D-print replica skulls, give the skulls to half a dozen different facial reconstructionists, and then film the skull-owner's amused reaction to the results, and give a prize to whomever got closest.

If I remember it correctly, the book Making Faces devotes one chapter to an (unscientific, natch) experiment where they scanned someone's head, printed the skull, and had someone reconstruct it. I think the result was that the person who did the reconstruction recognized the original person at a conference, but I may be mistaken -- it's been well over a decade since I read it. (Not to mention the subject didn't have any major changes to the soft tissues and hair of his face--weight gain, scars, beard, etc--that might affect identification.)

In conclusion: I'd love to see if anyone's studied that with a more rigorous methodology.
posted by telophase at 10:53 AM on December 13, 2016


Fascinating. The 5th century CE Huns had a similar practice. I wonder if it was a long term pre-literate cultural survival from an earlier era, or if it was something continually dying out and being reinvented.
posted by Captain l'escalier at 3:58 PM on December 13, 2016


I'm a blackstar! I'm a blackstar!
posted by Meatbomb at 12:46 AM on December 14, 2016


At the centre of it all,
At the centre of it all,
Your eyes.

posted by Meatbomb at 12:48 AM on December 14, 2016


And just one last thing, I apologize as I know this is only tangentially related, but David's masterful exit has linked him in my mind to ritually modified / decorated skulls, forever. This is already the third time it has come up for me, and I realize now that the only fitting end is for Mr. Bowie's skull to eventually be disinterred, with the greatest solemnity, and for the finest jewellers in the world to make it a brilliant sacred item around which a cult can be built for the ages. Archeologists won't need to puzzle over it 3000 years from now because it will be the very center of a vibrant celbratory tradition. Living humans will sing and dance his tale.

At the centee of it all, your eyes.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:00 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Meatbomb: he was cremated.
posted by Leon at 9:42 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


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