Archaeologists at an old burial site in Jordan thought one of their employees could get a sunstroke when he suggested that some rough flints he had found could represent people. But now his discovery could change the way scientists think about the Neolithic Middle East.
More than 100 of the unusual flint artifacts from 7500 BC They were discovered in Kharaysin, an archaeological site a few miles northeast of Amman in Jordan.
The archaeologists who found them now believe that the artifacts are early representations of real people and may have been used for ancestor worship. They also believe that the characters could shed light on why depictions of people in the Middle East have been common for about 1
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After one of the team digging in Kharaysin discovered several of the flint artifacts, each about 5 centimeters long, he suggested that they showed rough human figures – with a protruding head flanked by two notches on each side that could represent the shoulders and hips.
His idea met with a skeptical smile for the first time, said archaeologist Juan Ibáñez of the Milà y Fontanals Institution in Barcelona of the Spanish National Research Council.
“The team reacted … with jokes about how much sun they had on their heads,” said Ibáñez.
But when the team found more of the oddly shaped flints, they took the idea seriously.
“We have recognized that they are something permanent and unknown,” Ibáñez said in an email to Live Science.
In an article published in the magazine on July 6 AntiquityIbáñez and his team describe how, despite their rough appearance, they viewed the flints as individual representations of certain people.
Research shows that the characteristic “violin” shape of the strange artifacts resembles the shapes of Neolithic sculptures from the Middle East, which unmistakably represent people.
The team statistically compared the dimensions of the Kharaysin flints to those of human sculptures found in ‘Ain Ghazal, a Neolithic archaeological site a few miles away, and found that they had a similar violin shape.
“The more skeptical archaeologists on our team most likely had to accept that [human] Figures, “said Ibáñez.
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The Neolithic community in Kharaysin used flint extensively to make stone tools, including cutting blades and scrapers. The two notches that archaeologists interpreted as shoulders and hips could have been notches with which the flints were tied to a handle. In this scenario, the flints could have been used as a weapon or tool. However, the flint artifacts had no edges that could be used for cutting, and there were no signs of wear, suggesting that they were never used as tools.
In addition, archaeologists found the strange flints mainly in the burial area of the place where human burials took place, Ibáñez said.
Excavations show that after a funeral, many of the graves were opened and some parts removed – often the heads and long bones of limbs. People then used the bones for rituals before putting them in pits in the cemetery, he said. At the same time, offerings such as stone bowls, knives and other tools were deposited.
“We believe that the characters were part of these ritual items,” said Ibáñez. “They were probably made and used during rituals to commemorate the deceased.”
Although depictions of animals were common until the early Neolithic period, so Ibáñez, depictions of humans only spread after around 8500 BC. BC – and the Kharaysin figures could explain why.
If the characters were evidence of ancestral worship rituals, an increase in ancestral worship across the region could explain the increasing frequency of human representations, he said.
Paleolithic hunters and gatherers created some earlier human representations – the so-called “Venus” figuresFor example, up to 40,000 years ago – but it was fertility symbols that didn’t represent real people, he said. “Our Neolithic figures are related to a cult of the deceased.”
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The relationship between living people and their ancestors would have been important in the early Neolithic farming communities, in which social groups were rooted in certain areas, he said.
However, some other archaeologists who were not involved in the Kharaysin research are cautious.
Karina Croucher of the University of Bradford in the UK, who studied neolithic burials elsewhere in Jordan, said she accepted that the flint artifacts should be human figures. But she said burial practices could be an attempt to “keep the dead close” rather than being a form of ancestral worship.
Alan Simmons of the University of Nevada, who led the excavation of many Neolithic sculptures in ‘Ain Ghazal, said the interpretation of the flint as human figures was “not inappropriate”.
“However, the suggestion that these ‘characters’ were used to remember deceased people is open to other interpretations,” Simmons told Live Science.
“Maybe these were tokens, tokens, or even ‘fetishes’ as seen in North American Zuni Contexts, “he said.” However, there is no doubt that this discovery deepens the complexity of Neolithic life. ”
Originally published on Live Science.