New exhibit gives 9,500-year-old Jericho man digital makeover

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Rsearchers and visitors to the British Museum in London will come face to face with a man buried near Jericho nearly 10,000 year ago for the first time Thursday, thanks to some decidedly modern inventions.

The skull, partly covered by plaster, found near Jericho in the 1950s is the centerpiece of a new exhibit titled “The Jericho Skull: From person to ancestor and back again” that opens Thursday at the British Museum. A 3D-printed reproduction of the original cranium and a reconstruction of the person’s face, both products of new research into the ancient artwork, will appear alongside the skull itself.

The skull was one of seven discovered near Jericho by Kathleen Kenyon in 1953, all of which are believed to have served as part of a Neolithic ritual relating to ancestor worship. Other examples are on display in the UK, Canada and Jordan, and at East Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum.

The plastered skulls found in the Levant, at sites in modern-day Jordan, Israel, Syria and the West Bank, are considered some of the earliest examples of sculptured portraiture.

The digital reproductions are the culmination of new high-tech examinations of the artifact. Micro-CT imaging allowed scientists to examine areas of the head previously unseen.

The final reconstructed Jericho skull head from the side. The effect of the head-binding is just visible. (Copyright Trustees of the British Museum, photo by RN DS partnership)

The final reconstructed Jericho skull head from the side. The effect of the head-binding is just visible. (Copyright Trustees of the British Museum, photo by RN DS partnership)

“From this detailed examination, specialists were able suggest this individual was male,” the museum said in a statement. “The images also showed that the skull lacked a jaw, his teeth were broken and decayed, and he had broken his nose during his adult life which had healed before he died.”

During his childhood, the man’s skull was bound and reshaped, and after his death the skull was cut open and filled with soil to support the plaster, a fact previously unobserved.

The CT scan provided imagery for a 3D model, from which researchers reconstructed the man’s face.

“There are still some questions left to be answered such as hair or eye color. However the scientific analyses and facial reconstruction means we now understand more about this individual’s appearance and his life-history — further helping us to curate the Jericho Skull with care, respect and dignity,” the museum said.

For those unable to make the trip to London to see the exhibit before it closes on February 19, the museum uploaded an interactive digital model of the skull.

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