Category Archives: ASIA

Middle Paleolithic Site Discovered in Southern Israel

Middle Paleolithic Site Discovered in Southern Israel

A mid paleolithic flint knapping site that occurs between 250,000-50,000 years ago has been found in recent excavations undertaken by the Israel Antiquities Authority, in conjunction with local youth in Dimona, in preparation for construction of solar energy, funded by the electricity company.

The youth from the city who were interested in the exploration as a summer work during the economically challenging period of the COVID-19 helped discover the unusual prehistoric site.

The site near Dimona was newly found to be small. Prehistoric human beings apparently came here and made their tools from the abundant natural flint they made

The site here is unique because of the flint knapping technology, known as ‘Nubian Levallois,’ which originated in Africa.

Researchers trace the path of this technology to understand the migration routes of modern humans from Africa to the rest of the world, about 100,000 years ago.

According to the excavation directors, the prehistory researchers Talia Abulafia and Maya Oron from the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is the first evidence of a ‘Nubian’ flint industry in an archeological excavation in Israel.

The knapped flint artifacts remained right in the first place where the humans sat and created the tools. This manufacturing is identified with modern human populations who lived in East Africa 150-100 thousand years ago and migrated from there around the world.

In the last decade, quite a few Nubian sites have been discovered in the Arabian Peninsula. This has led many scholars to claim that modern humans left Africa through the Arabian Peninsula.

The Dimona site appears to present the northernmost example of Nubian flint output found in situ, thus marking the migration route: from Africa to Saudi Arabia, and from there, perhaps, to the Negev.

The excavation took place while dealing with the challenges presented by COVID-19, which affect the health and economy of Israeli citizens in general, and the residents of Dimona in particular.

According to Svetlana Talis, Northern Negev District Archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Dimona is one of the most severely affected towns in the second wave of the Corona outbreak and was even on the verge of lockdown.

After wondering what to do about summer holidays, local youths from Dimona came to the excavation to work and help their families, and to uncover a site of particular importance.

All of this is part of a project promoted and directed by the Israel Antiquities Authority in recent years, which seeks to bring our youth closer to their cultural heritage.”

Woolly Mammoth Skeleton With Intact Ligaments Found in Siberian Lake

Woolly Mammoth Skeleton With Intact Ligaments Found in Siberian Lake

The Siberian landscape is known to be a rich resource for prehistoric fossils and just recently a group of reindeer shepherds made a stunning discovery: the well-preserved skeleton of a woolly mammoth.

The carcass was so intact, in fact, that it still had some of its pelt and ligaments attached to it. Researchers are hopeful that they may even find bits of its brain still in its skull.

According to the Associated Press, local reindeer herders stumbled upon the specimen in the shallow end of the Pechevalavato Lake located in the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region on June 22, 2020. The remains included a skull, several ribs, the lower jaw, and a foot fragment with sinews still intact.

Scientists have yet to analyze the fossils, but they believe them to be at least 10,000 years old.

Locals quickly alerted researchers, who have since been working together with residents to uncover the rest of the remains likely submerged under the lake’s surface. But it’s also likely that the endeavor will take a considerable amount of time to complete.

Researchers are optimistic, however, as Dmitry Frolov, director of the Arctic Research Center told The Siberian Times, “The whole skeleton is there.”

He added that judging by the size of the fossils, this mammoth was likely young, but only further analysis will reveal just how old it really was.

Woolly mammoths roamed our planet during the Pleistocene era, which lasted somewhere between 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago. According to scientists, mammoth populations spread across the globe, but most of their fossils in recent years have been uncovered in Siberia and Mexico.

Woolly mammoths in Russia are believed to have largely disappeared about 15,000 years ago, while another population on St. Paul Island is believed to have vanished only 4,300 years ago.

The bones of what is believed to be a teenage woolly mammoth with soft tissues intact found on the Yamal peninsula.

According to Yevgeniya Khozyainova, a researcher from the Shemanovsky Institute in Salekhard, finding the complete skeleton of a mammoth is quite rare.

However, several other well-preserved mammoth carcasses have been uncovered in the permafrost of northern Siberia recently as a heatwave which has been ripping through the territory over the summer thaws the thick ice. Archaeologists believe this phenomenon will only continue to reveal more prehistoric specimens.

A similar discovery was made on the other side of the world in May 2020, when the remains of 60 individual mammoths were retrieved from a construction site right outside of Mexico City, Mexico. Some 15,000 years ago that site had been the location of an ancient lake known as Xaltocan, where giant mammoths and other beasts of the time would have congregated.

The skull of the mammoth found in Pechevalavato Lake.

Experts suspect that the mammoths in the ancient lake in Mexico died after they became trapped in the surrounding mud and it’s likely that early human hunters capitalized on their misfortune. It took six months for a team of researchers to dig out the remains and work on the site continues today.

The frozen tundra of the Siberian permafrost, however, has been famously known to produce unbelievably well-preserved specimens from prehistoric times. For instance, scientists were even able to analyze the DNA of a 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth specimen that was found incredibly well-preserved in the permafrost in 2011. The analysis showed that the DNA was still alive and active.

Researchers hope to find more of the skeleton.

“Until now many studies have focused on analyzing fossil DNA and not whether they still function,” said study author Kei Miyamoto from the Department of Genetic Engineering at Kindai University. “This suggests that, despite the years that have passed, cell activity can still happen and parts of it can be recreated.”

That 2011 study has led to highly-publicized discussions about possibly cloning the woolly mammoth back to life from these active DNA strains. However, further studies on this continue.

Until then, we’ll just have to settle for the shock and awe of uncovering these prehistoric creatures little by little.

High-Tech Equipment Leads to Discovery of Lost City in Cambodian Jungle

High-Tech Equipment Leads to Discovery of Lost City in Cambodian Jungle

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world flock to Cambodia to visit the famous Angkor Wat temple. But it appears that there may soon be new sites to visit, as research has revealed details of medieval cities under the jungle.

Wissenschaftler used laser technology to shed new light on the civilization behind the biggest religious complex in the world. During the time of investigations for several years, new findings reveal a much larger scale than was previously thought of in the urban expanse and temple complexes of the Khmer Empire.

Using high-tech lasers to scan the Cambodian jungle, Damian Evans and colleagues say they found traces of extensive networks surrounding the monumental stone temple complex at Angkor Wat. Evans said their findings could further our understanding of Khmer culture and throw into question traditional assumptions about the 15th-century decline of the empire.

The airborne Lidar system revealed a long-forgotten urban landscape in the jungle of Cambodia. The new research now reveals the sheer size of the ancient cities

Evans said a laser technology known as lidar was used to create precise maps of ancient networks that left only vague traces – invisible to the naked eye – in the landscape surrounding the temples.

‘You could be standing in the middle of the forest looking at what appear to be some random lumps and bumps,’ Evans said.

But they might actually be evidence of old excavated ponds or built-up roadways,’ he explained. ‘All of these things left traces on the surface of the landscape that wouldn’t make sense to you without a more detailed picture. To obtain such details, Evans said his colleagues spent 90 hours in a helicopter directing laser scans into the jungle surrounding Angkor Wat.

He said that the resulting images are so intricate ‘you can see objects lying next to a tiny anthill.’ The research was published Monday in the Journal of Archaeological Science. It was the result of a joint project including the French Institute of Asian Studies in Paris, the Cambodian national authority responsible for protecting Angkor Wat and the ministry of culture and fine arts.

New images from the survey show ancient cities near Angkor Wat were much bigger than previously thought. Above, a shaded relief map of the terrain around the central monuments of Sambor Prei Kuk
Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is considered one of the ancient wonders of the world. It was constructed from the early to mid-1100s by King Suryavarman II at the height of the Khmer Empire’s political and military power and was among the largest pre-industrial cities in the world

For years, experts have assumed that the ancient Khmer civilization collapsed in the 15th century when invading Thai armies sacked Angkor Wat, forcing populations to relocate to southern Cambodia. But Evans said their laser maps showed no evidence of relocated, dense cities in the south and that it wasn’t clear there was any such mass migration.

Chanratana Chen, a Cambodian academic at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, said the new findings had changed his own perception of the Angkor Wat temple complex, which the Cambodian people commonly refer to as ‘the small city.’ Chen was not involved in the new research.

‘The new results (show) us that Cambodia was a much more advanced civilization than we thought, especially about the management plan of the city and irrigation system to improve agriculture in the area,’ Chen wrote in an email.

Among the most noteworthy discoveries, Evans and colleagues had found were proof of medieval sandstone quarries and traces of a royal road between various temple complexes, he said.

Evans doubted tourists would soon be flocking to see the unremarkable ‘mounds in the ground’ that the lasers had decoded at Angkor Wat. But said he and colleagues have now pinpointed sites that might be fruitful for further excavation.

He said it was likely there could be similar such discoveries elsewhere in Southeast Asia, possibly in Burma and even the Americas, where archeologists might unearth more secrets about the remains left behind by the 6th-century Mayan Empire. 

Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is considered one of the ancient wonders of the world. It was constructed from the early to mid-1100s by King Suryavarman II at the height of the Khmer Empire’s political and military power and was among the largest pre-industrial cities in the world.

The new findings build on scans that confirmed the existence of Mahendraparvata, an ancient temple city near Angkor Wat. However, until now, the sheer scale of the settlements was unknown.

Mr. Evans said: ‘What we had was basically a scatter of disconnected points on the map denoting temple sites. Now it’s like having a detailed street map of the entire city.’

Further maps will be published in the coming months.

Long Kosal, a spokesman for the Apsara Authority, the government body that manages the Angkor complex, said the lidar had uncovered ‘a lot of information from the past.’

He said: ‘It shows the size and information about people living at those sites in the past,’ but added that further research was now needed to capitalize on the finds.

While the Khmer Empire was initially Hindu it increasingly adopted Buddhism and both religions can be seen on display at the complex. Angkor is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and remains Cambodia’s top tourist attraction.

Massive Structure Found Buried in Sands of Petra

Massive Structure Found Buried in Sands of Petra

According to a new study based on satellite imaging to map the ancient city, archaeologists have found the monumental building hidden under the sands of Petra.

A facade at Petra, where a new monumental structure has been found at the city built by Nabateans more than 2,000 years ago.

A massive 184-footed platform was revealed by satellite surveys of the city, with an interior platform that was paved with flagstones, lined with columns on one side and with a gigantic staircase descending to the east. A smaller structure, 28ft by 28ft, topped the interior platform and opened to the staircase. Pottery found near the structure suggests the structure could be more than 2,150 years old.

“This monumental platform has no parallels at Petra or in its hinterlands at present,” the researchers wrote, noting that the structure, strangely, is near the city center but “hidden” and hard to reach.

Zoomed-in UAV image of platform

“To my knowledge, we don’t have anything quite like this at Petra,” said Christopher Tuttle, an archaeologist who has worked at Petra for about 15 years and a co-author of the paper.

“I knew something was there and other archaeologists – who have worked in Petra for the last, God knows, 100 years at least – I know at least one other had noticed something there,” he said. But the structure’s sides resembled terrace walls common to the city, he noted: “I don’t think anybody paid much attention to them.”

Tuttle collaborated on the research with Sarah Parcak, a self-described “space archaeologist” from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who used satellites to survey the site.

Parcak said that she begins surveys “quite skeptical” of what they might find – they are working on sites in northern Africa, North America, Europe and elsewhere – and that she was surprised to find the monument “turned out to be something significant”.

“Petra is a massive site, and we chose the name for our article [‘Hiding in plain sight’] precisely because, even though this is less than a kilometer south of the main city, previous surveys had missed it,” she said.

Tuttle and a team took subsequent trips to measure and examine the site from the ground. There they found scattered pottery, the oldest of which suggests the site could date back to the time of Petra’s founding. “We’re always very cautious about this,” Tuttle said, “but the oldest pottery can be dated back relatively securely to about 150BC.”

Petra was built by the Nabateans in what is now southern Jordan, while the civilization was amassing great wealth trading with its Greek and Persian contemporaries around 150BC. The city was eventually subsumed by the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires, but its ruins remain famous for the work of its founders, who carved spectacular facades into cliffs and canyons. It was abandoned around the seventh century and rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt in 1812.

Along with the oldest Nabatean pottery, they found fragments that had been imported from the Hellenistic cultures who traded with Petra, as well as pottery of the eras when the Roman and the Byzantine empires took the city under their guard.

Overview of the monumental platform, looking south-east. Jabal an-Nmayr is indicated by the left-facing arrow and the slope of ‘South Ridge’ with agricultural terracing by the down-facing arrow.

In the mountains, valleys and canyons surrounding Petra, Tuttle said, “there’s tons of small cultic shrines and platforms and these things, but nothing on this scale”. He said these sites, including a large, open plateau known as the Monastery and probably “used for various cultic displays or political activities”, are the closest parallel to the newly discovered edifice. “To be honest, we don’t know a whole lot about it.”

Those sites suggest that the structure was used for “some kind of massive display function”, he said. Unlike those other sites, however, the giant staircase does not face the city center of Petra, which Tuttle called a “fascinating” peculiarity.

“We don’t understand what the purpose [of visible shrines], because the Nabateans didn’t leave any written documents to tell us,” he said, adding: “But I find it interesting that such a monumental feature doesn’t have a visible relationship to the city.”

Nabatean shrines around Petra offer mixed clues about the ancient people’s practices. Like other Semitic cultures of the day, the Nabateans used an indirect, “aniconic” style to indirectly represent their divinities: carved blocks, stelae and niches. Sometimes there will be “an empty niche, just a carving in the wall, which the empty space itself can be representative or they would’ve had portable images”, Tuttle said.

Previous surveys of the site had missed the structure.

But because they were in near-constant trade with other cultures of the Mediterranean, the Nabateans also adopted figural representations. “Nabatean gods depicted as parallels to Zeus or Hermes or Aphrodite, and those kinds of things,” he said.

The researchers published their work in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. They said that while they have no plans at this time to excavate the site, they hope they will have the chance to work there in the future.

Parcak said that she expects “some pretty amazing discoveries over the next year” using satellites and sophisticated new techniques in south-east Asia “and other densely forested/rainforest areas”. A surveying technology called Lidar, for instance, has uncovered sites in remote forests in Central America.

“This technology is not about what you find – but how you can think about things like settlement scale and ancient human-environment interactions more broadly,” she added. “What happens when you can truly map the near-surface buried features for an entire site? I’m excited, but we need to think about the implications of having all this technology at our fingertips so we can use it responsibly.”

Massive Kingdom of Judah government complex uncovered near US Embassy in Jerusalem

Massive Kingdom of Judah government complex uncovered near US Embassy in Jerusalem

Researchers in Israel have discovered a stunning ancient site near the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. The discovery was made in Arnona, the affluent neighborhood in southern Jerusalem where the embassy is located.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority has sent a message to Israel’s times saying that archeologists have uncovered an “extraordinarily large structure” with concentrated walls. Some 120 jar handles were also found bearing seal impressions with ancient Hebrew script.

A seal or bulla was used to authenticate documents or items in ancient times. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, many of the handles have the inscription “LMLK,” (to the king), along with the name of an ancient city.

Other inscriptions have the names of senior officials or wealthy people from the First Temple period between 960 BCE and 586 BCE.

The site is believed to be a storage facility from the time of the ancient Judean kings Hezekiah and Menashe.

The site is believed to be a storage facility from the time of the ancient Judean kings Hezekiah and Menashe.

“This is one of the most significant discoveries from the period of the Kings in Jerusalem made in recent years,” said Neria Sapir and Nathan Ben-Ari, directors of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the statement. The site was used to store food supplies, they explained.

Small statuettes made from clay were also discovered at the site. “Some of the figurines are designed in the form of women, horse riders, or as an animal,” said Sapir and Ben-Ari, in the statement. “These figurines are usually interpreted as objects used in pagan worship and idolatry – a phenomenon, which according to the Bible, was prevalent in the Kingdom of Judah.”

“It seems that shortly after the site was abandoned, with the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE and the Babylonian exile, the site was resettled and administrative activity resumed,” they added.

“During this time governmental activity at the site was connected to the Judean province upon the Return to Zion in 538 BCE under the auspices of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, which then ruled over the entire ancient Near East and Central Asia.”

Two-winged royal ancient Hebrew ‘LMLK’ seal impression — ‘Belonging to the King’ — found at the 2,700-year-old administrative complex in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood.

The U.S. embassy in Arnona opened in May 2018 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

Israel continues to reveal new aspects of its rich history. Hidden underground chambers dating back 2,000 years, for example, were recently discovered near the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Clay figurines of women and animals found at the Arnona, Jerusalem excavation site.

Earlier this year, an international team of archaeologists uncovered an ancient Biblical era temple in what is now National Park Tel Lachish.

In another project, an Iron Age temple complex discovered near Jerusalem is shedding new light on an ancient Biblical city.

Last year, the room in Jerusalem venerated as the site of Jesus’ Last Supper was revealed in stunning detail thanks to remarkable 3D laser scanning technology.

A Christian holy site, the Cenacle (from the Latin for ‘dining room’), is located on the upper floor of the King David’s Tomb complex on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion.

2,100-Year-Old King’s Mausoleum Discovered in China

2,100-Year-Old King’s Mausoleum Discovered in China

An elaborate mausoleum that was built for a king 2,100 years ago has been unearthed in China.

Archaeologists discovered numerous precious treasures from jade artifacts and musical instruments to life-sized decorated chariots and weapons, which were buried with king Liu Fei in an area of modern-day Xuyi County.

Liu Fei ruled the kingdom of Jiangdu – part of the Chinese Empire – for 26 years before dying in 128 BC. It is thought that the mausoleum was plundered long ago, but archaeologists still found over 10,000 artefacts, some of which were crafted from gold, silver and jade.

2,100-Year-Old King's Mausoleum Discovered in China
Archaeologists in China have discovered a mausoleum, dating back over 2,100 years, that contains three main tombs, including the tomb of Liu Fei (shown at bottom), the ruler of the Jiangdu kingdom in China.

Excavations of the mausoleum, which comprises three tombs as well as pits housing the chariots and weapons, LiveScience reported. According to the journal of Chinese Archaeology, a team from Nanjing Museum examined the remains of a well that surrounded the complex, which was built to be 1,608 ft (490 meters) long.

They worked quickly to document the site, which they said was at risk from quarrying.

A large mound of the earth once protected the king’s tomb, which has two shafts leading to a roomy burial chamber measuring 115ft by 85ft (35 by 26 metres). It contained goods fit for a king in his afterlife, the archaeologists explained.

A chariot-and-horse pit, made of wood, lacquer, bronze, gold and silver, found in one of the pits in the mausoleum where archaeologists found the tomb of Liu Fei.
The bronze mat weight was found in the tomb adjacent to Liu Fei’s. It contains inlaid gold, silver and gemstones. A gold rabbit belt hook (pictured right) was also found in one of the tombs

Historical texts recount the king’s lavish lifestyle, so it came as little surprise to archaeologists that he was buried in such luxurious surroundings.

Weapons discovered in the burial chamber included iron swords, crossbows, knives and more than 20 model chariots, alongside instruments such as chime bells and parts for a stringed instrument called a zither.

Because, according to ancient tradition,  the king needed riches in the afterlife, a hoard of 100,000 coins containing a square hole in the center of each, were buried with him. The banliang coins were made by the first emperor of China.

This is the tomb of Liu Fei, the ruler of the Jiangdu kingdom in the Chinese Empire. It is just possible to pick out the different chambers of the tomb

Goose and deer-shaped lamps were discovered in another part of the chamber as well as a silver basin, while another area, set up like a kitchen, catered for the king’s food needs in the afterlife.

Cauldrons, wine jars, tripods, jugs and cups were found as well as shells, bones and seeds, suggesting that food was left with the king.

Despite the rich selection of artefacts that survived a past plundering, the king’s body was not found in the tomb and his coffins were damaged.

‘Near the coffins many jade pieces and fragments, originally parts of the jade burial suit, were discovered. These pieces also indicate that the inner coffin, originally lacquered and inlaid with jade plaques, was exquisitely manufactured,’ the archaeologists wrote in the journal.

Off the main burial chamber, more pits were found housing a jumble of weapons such as swords and shields, as well as two chariot pits. One contains five life-size chariots, made of wood and elaborately decorated with lacquer. Some parts of the vehicles were inlaid with gold and silver.

Other looted tombs were also discovered, which could belong to high-status individuals. An undamaged ‘jade coffin’ is the only one of its kind to have been found in China.

A 5,000-Year-Old Settlement Found Near Mysterious Sanxingdui Ruins, China

A 5,000-Year-Old Settlement Found Near Mysterious Sanxingdui Ruins, China

On Tuesday, Chinese archaeologists revealed they had discovered an important site next to the ruins of Sanxingdui, which they claim to be a settlement about 5,000 years old.

For its striking resemblance to the main character in the Angry Birds mobile app, an ancient clay pig figurine has created a sensation on the internet. The fist-size artwork was found under the remains of a tribal settlement in southwestern China dating back almost 5,000 years.

It has sparked a trending topic in the country after people said it looked exactly like the Green Pig in the popular video game.

Archaeologists found the tiny sculpture while digging in the remains of a small ancient community outside modern-day Guanghan in Sichuan province.

The experts believe that the village was situated about eight kilometres (five miles) outside Sanxingdui, a mysterious Bronze Age kingdom. The tribe likely came into being around 5,000 years ago, and the pig figurine is thought to be 3,200 years old.

The piece of pottery has been described as ‘cute, vivid and delicate’ by the researchers, who say it represents the advanced aesthetic standards of the region’s prehistoric residents.

Chinese internet users expressed their amazement after a picture of the piece of pottery was released by the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute.

On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, one person gushed: ‘It is the pig from the Angry Birds!’

Another reader wondered: ‘The Angry Birds? It’s like time travel.’

A third commenter joked: ‘The pig in the Angry birds. You have infringed the copyright.’

The research team claims to have discovered traces of continuous human activity on the archaeological site dating from 5,000 years ago until the dynasties of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912).

Officials plan to excavate 7,000 square meters (75,350 square feet) of the site, which is officially named Guanghan Joint Ruins. By the end of July, they had studied 4,500 square meters (48,440 square feet), according to an official post. 

Apart from the pig figurine, experts found detailed carvings of a dragon and a phoenix under a broken clay plate, a totem symbolizing good fortune.

Other discoveries include daily utensils, such as vases and cups made with porcelain or stone.

10,000-Year-Old Neolithic Figurines Discovered in Jordan Burials

10,000-Year-Old Neolithic Figurines Discovered in Jordan Burials

From classical paintings of crucified Messiahs to Damien Hirst’s starkly grim tanks of pickled sharks, death is a subject that has haunted artistic imaginations throughout the ages.

As it turns out, a trove of archaeological discoveries in Jordan suggests that death and an unusual process of digging up the deceased may have sparked an important ancient artistic revolution in Early Neolithic Asia: the jump between artworks depicting animals to portraying humans.

Reported in the journal Antiquity, archaeologists from the Spanish National Research Council and Durham University in the UK developed this idea while studying a number of unusual objects discovered at the site of Kharaysin in the Zarqa river valley, Jordan, dating to the 8th millennium BCE.

The Neolithic figurines found in Jordan were of differing shapes and sizes.

The team was initially stumped by the jagged objects, thinking they must be tools, until they came to realize they were actively crafted into crudely-shaped human bodies, complete with broad shoulders, slim waist, and wide hips.

“One of the excavators suggested they were figurines, which the rest of the team were skeptical about,” lead author Dr. Juan José Ibáñez said in an email statement. “However, the more we studied, the stronger the idea appeared.”

Two clay human figurines found at the bottom of a 1.6-meter-deep pit located in J 105/110 at Kharaysin.

The figures appear to have been crafted around the 7500 BCE, about a century after depictions of humans became more common in the Early Neolithic communities of Western Asia. But, what drove humans in the Zarqa river valley to start making human sculptures 9,000-10,000 years ago?

By no coincidence, the researchers say, the figurines were found in an area used by the Early Neolithic communities of the Zarqa river valley to bury their dead.

Among the seven original burials found here, a number of the remains appear to have been dug up following an initial burial and the partial decomposition of bodies, manipulated – in some cases bones were removed or muddled up in an unusual mortuary practice – and then reburied.

The placement of the figurines to these burials suggests they were carelessly dropped, but actively deposited in specific areas. Assembling all of these odd pieces of evidence together, the researchers put forward the hypothesis that the figurines were part of a burial ritual.

Although precise details remain unclear, it’s suggested the figurines were used as a physical representation of the dead to honor the community’s ancestors, a practice that’s well documented during this time.

“These rituals probably included remembrance of the deceased. The presence of ‘figurines’ suggests that individuals could have been symbolically depicted in flint with a simple technical gesture. If this were the case, the ‘figurines’ were discarded where they were used,” the researchers write in their paper.

The roughly shaped figurines alone might not be enough to convince some of this theory, but the conclusion was backed up by comparisons to other examples of figurines from the Neolithic Zarqa river valley.

For example, archaeologists also discovered a similar set of figurines that clearly depicted humans at another Neolithic site in Jordan, ‘Ain Ghazal.

Much older depictions of humans can be found elsewhere in the world; the 35,000-years-old Venus of Hohle Fels, found in modern-day Germany, is the oldest undisputed depiction of a human being.

However, in Early Neolithic culture in present-day Jordan, human iconography has not been found until around the time of these unusual funerary ceremonies. From this point onwards, it appears that humans became a recurring subject of artistic creations in this part of the world.

Perhaps, as the researchers outline in their study, this “artistic revolution” was triggered by this ceremony of digging up the dead and honoring lost ancestors.