8000-2300 BCE – Neolithic Art

Human skull with restored features, from Jericho, ca. 7200-6700 BCE.  Features modeled in plaster, painted, and inlaid with seashells.  Life-size.  Archaeological Museum, Amman.

The villagers in Jericho at this time buried their dead beneath the floors of their houses with the craniums detached from their skeletons and their features reconstructed in plaster.  The models would have inlaid seashells for eyes and hair painted on.  This depiction even has a painted on mustache.  It is believed these skull models aided in the ancestral worship practiced by the people who made them.  The appearance of these skulls can be off-putting since they seem so morbid but this type of ancestral imagery will be seen throughout history.  The dedication or defacing of the images of the deceased have been important to the Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and especially early Christians.

Landscape with volcanic eruption(?), detail of a watercolor copy of a wall painting from level VII, Ҫatal Hӧyük, Turkey, ca. 6150 BCE.

The painting found in one of the older rooms at Ҫatal Hӧyük in Turkey is generally considered the world’s oldest map and landscape painting.  It seems to represent the town and the only twin-peaked volcano in the area, Hasan Dağ.  The dots and lines coming from the volcano seem to depict an eruption, although it’s not believed the painting represents any specific eruption.  I do find it interesting that the painting was inside a complex since you’d think a map at this time would be easiest to create from a hill overlooking the town.  The fact that this was found inside a building, to me, shows an urge to start using art as a tool for instruction or decoration that is accessible and a little personal.

Aerial view of Stonehenge (looking northwest), Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England, ca. 2550-1600 BCE.  Circle 97′ in diameter; trilithons 24′ high.

Stonehenge, located in southern England, is the most famous but certainly not the only henge in Britain; in fact, there are 115 of them.  A henge is an arrangement of megalithic stones in a circle, often surrounded by a ditch.  The stones are rough-cut sarsen (a type of sandstone) and smaller “bluestones” (volcanic rock).  The henge was built in several stages over hundreds years.  The posts were built using a post and lintel technique and had to be extremely precise so the tops of the trilithons wouldn’t bow or sag in the middle.  The tops were connected and steadied by mortise-and-tenon joints, conical projections in the bases.  The original purpose of Stonehenge and henges like it remain a bit of a mystery but it has been observed that it aligns with the year’s two solstices.  The convincing hypotheses as of late suggest that Stonehenge was built as a monument to celebrate the unity of east and west Britain after a long period of conflict or as a place of great healing powers.

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