Posts Tagged ‘Syria’


Topic: ancient Wand

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.) [Photos: 7 Stunning Archaeological Sites in Syria]

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.

“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 hunanized form. It’s also possible the heads on display were trophies from vanquished enemies, Braemer told Live Science.

Original article:

By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer | March 11, 2014 12:33pm ET

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Persian Gazelle


Desert Kites in Syria-Ancient Corrals

 Topic: Stone Corrals for mass hunting

Texas barbecue has nothing on the ancient Near East.

A mass gazelle slaughter unearthed in northeastern Syria may give clues to the region’s “desert kites,” strange stone corrals that many researchers consider among humans’ first mass-scale snares. In a single massacre 5,500 years ago, hunters appear to have herded at least 93 gazelles into a kite and then killed the animals, an Israeli and U.S. team reports online April 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Roundups like these may have been the beginning of the end for many game animals in the northern Levant region. Like infamous and mysterious crop circles, Westerners first spotted desert kites from the air. These horseshoe-shaped rock corrals, with arms sometimes a kilometer long, were mysterious indeed.

Historical accounts and rock art suggest that the corrals weren’t for flock safety but for slaughter, says study coauthor Melinda Zeder. She thinks ancient hunters and their dogs may have scared entire herds of gazelle, wild asses and even ostriches into these enclosures, then narrowed in for the quick kill. “It must’ve been a heck of a roundup,” says Zeder, an archaeozoologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

But this roundup left behind few barbecue pits. Near East hunters, or maybe time, cleaned up, and kites today are scant in bones or artifacts of any kind. An excavated town called Tell Kuran, which sits within 10 kilometers of several kites, however, may provide the first hint of where all that meat wound up. In one ghastly layer dated to the fourth millennium B.C., archaeologists uncovered about 2,600 Persian gazelle bones, mostly feet. Forensic analyses, too, show that the feet came from gazelle of all ages and sexes, suggesting that they represent a single herd taken out in one fell swoop. Researchers would expect exactly that sort of swoop from the nearby kites, which some studies date to around the same time, Zeder says.

Since domestic animals abounded at the time, kite hunting may have been less about food and more of a social pursuit among the region’s upper class. Gentleman’s sport or not, these hunts could have helped to kick off the Persian gazelle’s “long, slow death march to real extirpation,” Zeder says. Kites sat across proposed game migration routes from Saudi Arabia north to Syria, sometimes in long chains. A drain on herds may have been too much for Persian gazelle and wild asses, which have now nearly vanished from northeastern Syria.

“Those hunters were farmers, were herders,” says study coauthor Guy Bar-Oz, an archaeozoologist at the University of Haifa in Israel. “They lost the way of hunting.”

But hunting isn’t the only possible culprit in the gazelles’ demise, suggests Liora Kolska Horwitz, an archaeozoologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At the time when gazelles began dropping off, Horwitz says, human settlements and agriculture were growing, and the deserts were drying out.

Original article:


April 18, 2011

By Daniel Strain

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