9,500-year-old decorated skulls found in Syria
DAMASCUS (AFP) - Archaeologists said they had uncovered decorated human skulls dating back as long as 9,500 years ago from a burial site near the Syrian capital Damascus.
"The human skulls date back between 9,500 and 9,000 years ago, (on which) lifelike faces were modelled with clay earth ... then coloured to accentuate the features," said Danielle Stordeur, head of the joint French-Syrian archaeological mission behind the discovery.
Located at a burial site near a prehistoric village, the five skulls were found earlier this month in a pit resting against one another, underneath the remains of an infant, said Stordeur.
The French archaeologist described as "extraordinary" the find at the Neolithic site of Tell Aswad, at Jaidet al-Khass village, 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Damascus.
The discovery was not the first of its kind in the Middle East, but "the realism of two of these skulls is striking," stressed Stordeur, in charge of the excavation along with Bassam Jamous, the chief of antiquities of Syria's National Museum.
"They surprise by the regularity and the smoothness of their features," Stordeur said of the skulls.
"The eyes are shown as closed, underlined by black bitumen. The nose is straight and fine, with a pinched base to portray the nostrils.
"The mouth is reduced to a slit," said Stordeur, of the Asian research house of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), France's largest scientific establishment.
The decorated skulls were devoted "only to important individuals, chosen according to social or religious criteria," she added.