Category Archives: WORLD

Earliest Mosaic in the World Found in Turkey

The oldest known polychrome mosaic floor dating to the second-millennium bc has been discovered at the Hittite settlement of usakli hoyuk Turkey.

An Italian-Turkish team has unearthed the world’s oldest-known polychrome mosaic floor at Usakli Hoyuk, a Hittite settlement in central Turkey.

The partially preserved mosaic measures 23 feet by 10 feet and once adorned an open courtyard belonging to a building that archaeologists believe was a second-millennium B.C. temple.

The mosaic, which was set into a beaten-earth surface, consists of more than 3,000 multicolored stones arranged in rectangular frames, each with three rows of alternating white, red, and blue-black triangles. Stone pavements served a practical function in Hittite architecture.

The mosaic was unearthed during a planned excavation at Uşaklı Höyük in central Turkey, some 14 miles (19km) north of Yozgat.  

It was “occupied from the end of the 3rd millennium, during the Middle Bronze and Paleo-Hittite phases (18th-16th centuries BC),” according to The Archaeological Project at Uşaklı Höyük. 

The stone Bronze Age mosaic floor is in the foreground.

Since 2008, the Anatolian Archaeological Project in Central Anatolia has been revealing the ancient town’s long history. They have found fragments of cuneiform tablets indicating that it was once a major Hittite center.  Dr. Anacleto D’Agostini of Pisa University, who took part in the mission, wrote that the site may be the “lost Hittite city of Zippalanda,” according to Haaretz.

Unusual Bronze Age Mosaic

During work on the site, a large building on a terrace, which dated to the Late Bronze Age , was found. This had the characteristics of a building that was constructed during the Hittite period. It was believed to be a temple that was possibly dedicated to the Storm God, a very important deity for the Hittites and other populations. 

Near this possible temple, a courtyard was located, and it was here that archaeologists made the remarkable discovery of a mosaic.  The experts found a paved floor that measured about 20 ft by 9 ft (7m by 3m), which was poorly preserved.

The floor was paved with some 3000 pieces of stone, that appeared to have been roughly shaped and cut. Haaretz quotes D’Agostini as saying that “the mosaic was framed with perpendicularly positioned stones in white, black-blue and white again”. 

Closeup of the Bronze Age mosaic at Usa̧klı Höyük. 

Unlike later mosaics, it was not made out of smooth and small stones.  All the stones that were found were cut in irregular shapes and the floor would not have had a smooth finish.

According to Haaretz “one wonders how comfortable it was to walk on and one envisions a lot of twisted ankles.” However, the mosaic was possibly deliberately made to be uneven so that slippery mud would not form on its surface.

A Bronze Age Mosaic for Gods

The stones have been clearly set to produce geometric patterns using divergent colors reports Antiquity. The mosaic is divided into three distinct areas, and each one contains a number of triangles. It is discerned to have been created at the same time as the Hittite temple because it is closely aligned with its eastern wall.

D’Agostino is quoted by Haaretz as saying that the “building and mosaic are characterized by ‘high-status architecture’” and this lends credence to the theory that indeed the unearthed structure was the Temple of the Storm God.

Art of Mosaic Making

The discovery of this Bronze Age mosaic at a Hittite site is astonishing. Flagstone and cobblestone, often painted, have been found at sites associated with this Bronze Age culture.  They have been found in temples and even private rooms. However, no decorative mosaics have been found ever, until this one at Uşaklı Höyük.

“The technique of making mosaic floors using different colored pebbles is well known during the Iron Age ,” according to the report in Antiquity. 

There are many examples of checkerboard mosaic floors from the Iron Age. But until the discovery at Uşaklı Höyük, the earliest known mosaic had been found in southern Anatolia at the 9 th century BC Phrygian Gordion citadel.

Aerial shot of the excavation area shown, including the Storm God Temple and the Bronze Age mosaic are (highlighted in yellow).

World’s Oldest Mosaic

However, the discovery of a Bronze Age mosaic floor at Uşaklı Höyük is considerably older than anything yet found. Moreover, the design of the mosaic was much more complex than anything found from the time. Antiquity reports that the find “provides the first evidence of a polychromatic mosaic floor with clear patterning.”

It is possible that the mosaic may represent an older tradition from Anatolia. Antiquity reports that the pavement “could represent a Late Bronze Age Anatolian forerunner for later polychromatic mosaic floors.”

The discovery may indicate that the art of mosaic making developed much earlier than widely believed and this could provide new clues into its stylistic development.

The find may result in the experts re-writing the history of images made out of polychromatic stones, an art-from that reached its zenith in the Classical Period in the Mediterranean. 

Fingerprints on Early Bronze Age Pottery Studied in Israel

Fingerprints on Early Bronze Age Pottery Studied in Israel

According to the text, some 4700 years ago, people were responsible in great part for pottery making in Tell es-Safi in central Israel, which was known as the biblical town of Gath, Ramat Gan, ISRAEL — Kent D. Fowler and the colleague from Bar-Ilan University and Don Maeir said.

Fingerprints on Early Bronze Age Pottery Studied in Israel
Fingerprints of the index and middle fingers, right hand, made 4,700 years ago on the bottom of a storage vessel in Gath

Crafted of wet clay into “snakes” and enrouled and smoothed to the desired shape, the pots would have been covered with fingerprints, unless they had been wiped away by the potter with a rag before the pot was baked in a kiln.

Forensic scientist Lior Nedivi said that women usually have smaller fingertips than men, with denser fingerprint ridges.

The site of Tell es-Safi – aka Gath – was settled from about 7,000 years ago, during the Late Prehistoric period, on the western edge of the Judean foothills, with a strategically convenient view of Israel’s southern coastal plain.

By the Early Bronze Age, when this pottery was made, the village had become one of several fortified urban centers in the region and was probably Canaanite.

And, as seems to be the rule in human society, there was a division of labor – as attested by the marks the potters left on some vessels.

“These are the fingerprints of 4,700-year-old people! Right there to see. To connect with. It is very intimate. It does freak me out a bit, but I get over it and I just think it would have been nice to meet them,” Prof. Fowler says. 

Gath Archaeological Project, Tel es-Safi

The division of labor is a fundamental organizing principle in human societies, Fowler explains, but potting as a genderized occupation in antiquity can’t be taken for granted. Actual archaeological evidence is of the essence.

In the Levant, the Pottery Neolithic Period began about 8,500 years ago.

Over in Mesopotamia, it seems more females than males were involved in the earliest pottery manufacture, but that changed with the establishment of state institutions. “In most cases in antiquity, once things become centralized, women are marginalized,” Maeir says.

Yet in the Neolithic settlement of Boncuklu Hoyuk in Anatolia, and in somewhat less ancient Arizona, figurines seem to have been made chiefly by women.

“If the researchers’ analysis is correct, which is potentially problematic, then figurine production would have aligned with the other responsibilities in that society,” Fowler tells Ancientorigin.

“Perhaps women were responsible for the conduct of private and domestic ritual practices, much like women in Maya society, whereas men were responsible for the conduct of ritual practices in the public sphere.”

Gath is chiefly known as a Philistine city famed as the home of the legendary Goliath, anecdotally slain by a pre-monarchic David, but that would have been in about the 11th century B.C.E. – a millennium later than the pottery reported here when it seems the men were potting. But how actually did the archaeologists deduce the gender of the fingerprints?

Jar fragment with multiple prints: Arrow shows the direction of marks left by the fabric used to wipe the inside of the pot, Gath

Metal detectorist finds £100,000 gold haul while looking for his mate’s wedding ring

Metal detectorist finds £100,000 gold haul while looking for his mate’s wedding ring

Now a metal detector who was looking for a mate’s missing wedding ring has discovered a haul of gold coins worth an estimated £100,000 – and shouted: ”yee-ha – there’s a f*cking fortune here!’.

Paul Raynard, 44, screamed “’there are millions – this is the moment we dreamed of!” to best pal Michael Gwynne, 52, when he realized the scale of the find. The businessman from Keighley, Yorks., “broke down in tears” when he stumbled across his very own pot of gold – a cluster of 84 coins in a field near Ballycastle, Northern Ireland.

Stunned Paul and Michael found the coins – dating back to the 1500s – whilst looking for a farmer’s wedding ring he’d lost in his field. They didn’t find the ring – instead of digging up a horseshoe and a 5p coin – but after just 90 minutes of searching they found the collection of coins. Lighting engineer Paul said experts have told him it could be the biggest haul ever found in Ireland and worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Just one of the hoard – an ultra-rare Henry VIII coin – is estimated to be worth £5,000 on its own.

Edward VI coin

Paul found the underground treasure shows him pulling out muddy coin after coin from beneath the soil. He beamed at the Michael who is holding a phone struggled to contain his excitement.

Dad-of-two Paul said: ”I jumped up and down and ran down the field in tears to find Michael.

“It’s something I have dreamed of finding since I was a kid. It was an amazing feeling. It’s like checking your lottery numbers and realizing you’ve hit the jackpot.

“I saw one or two coins at first but had no idea of the size of the hoard to begin with.

This is the moment two metal detectorists looking for a mate’s wedding ring discovered gold coins

“I went to fetch Michael who was across the field so we could share the moment together. I was shaking, I still can’t believe it now.”

Paul and Michael were in Northern Ireland for a short holiday when their friend recruited them to help find his missing wedding ring. The coins have been sent to Ulster Museum for official identification and valuation by a team of experts. It will take several months for the 84 coins to be valued in full, but Paul has said other experts have told him the whole hoard could be worth more than £100,000.

The earliest coin in the hoard is dated 1512, was made when Henry VIII was king and could be worth as much as £5,000 on its own, Paul said. He added other coins – like one dated 1546 when the famed boy king Edward VI reigned – could be worth up to £3,000.

Many of the other 84 coins could fetch hundreds of pounds a piece if auctioned off. Paul said he and business partner, Michael, usually study old maps looking out for signs of ancient settlements or battlegrounds where hoards may be buried.

This is the moment two metal detectorists looking for a mate’s wedding ring discovered gold coins

Paul said: “We had just come back from a busy business trip to China and Michael said he knew of a nice little place we could go to in Ireland for us to take our detectors.

“But we only went to that field to try to find his mate’s wedding ring. He lost it and reckons it could be in the field somewhere.

“We didn’t find the ring and had only been there a couple of hours when we found the coins.

“I dug a small hole and there they were. I just could not believe it.”

Lighting engineer, Paul, has been interested in metal detecting since aged seven when his parents bought him a treasure island book as a present.

But he only took his hobby seriously when he turned 35 and purchased a £600 metal detector, capable of picking up gold and silver items buried up to 4ft below ground. This discovery is Paul’s most significant find and he has described it as a “once in a lifetime” discovery.

Paul said: “I’ve since found out it’s the biggest ever hoard to be found in Ireland.

“I’ve handed them all over to the museum to be properly identified and valued. It will take several months for that to happen.” The value of the coins will be split equally between Paul and the landowner if they choose to sell the hoard on for cash, following the completion of the valuation process.

Gold Mine of Discoveries Unearthed in Egypt’s Saqqara Necropolis

Treasure Trove of Discoveries Unearthed in Egypt’s Saqqara Necropolis

Situated some 30 km (19 miles) south of modern Cairo and the house of the older and the most early documented pyramid is Saqqara’s enormous historic site, the Unas, the well-known Step Pyramid of Djoser, the Serapeum, and the tomb of the spiritual Apis bulls, varying from the early Old Kingdom to the Graeco-Roman period.

In December 2018, The BBC reported archaeologists at Saqqara had actually found an “exceptionally-well preserved” burial chamber, the Wahti Burial place, consisting of holy birds and mummified animals, and now, the Tourist and Antiquities Minister in Egypt, Khaled El-Enany, revealed on Saturday through Instagram a brand-new discovery at the Spiritual Animal Necropolis in Saqqara near the highly-decorated burial place of “Wahti and the cachette” of spiritual birds and animals, reports Egypt Today.

The Minister of Tourist and Antiquities published pictures of himself with excavation employees in Saqqara on his main Instagram account revealing his group checking out a “burial well” situated beside the Wahti Burial place.

Another one of the ancient Egyptian sarcophagi unearthed at the Saqqara archaeological site, being inspected by an archaeologist.

The archaeologists discovered a passage that caused a chamber real estate 5 closed limestone sarcophagi and 4 wood caskets, all with human mummies within, from the Late Pharaonic Period.

In among the specific niches a big human-shaped wood sarcophagus included engravings in intense yellow ink and around it was a big collection of statues and pottery consisting of “365 Ushabti statues” crafted in faience and some including hieroglyphs A little wood obelisk measuring 40 cm (16 inches) in height was likewise found, and when this artifact is translated with the ushabtis themselves, they together use insight into ancient Egyptian cosmology.

The ushabti, shabti, or shawabti was a funerary figurine utilized within the death routines of ancient Egyptian faith, and they were positioned in burial places amongst the spiritual serious items meant to serve the deceased in the afterlife.

Shot of the many ushabti figurines found at the Saqqara archaeological site.

The routine application of ushabtis came from the Old Kingdom of Egypt ( c. 2600 to 2100 BC) and frequently they were portrayed with a hoe over their shoulders bring baskets on their backs.

Archaeologists believe these signs insinuate a belief that the statuettes would amazingly come to life and farm for the departed, and according to Richard Taylor’s 2000 paper’ Shabti, Ushabti, Shawabti, Death and the Afterlife’, hieroglyphs normally appeared on the legs asserting “their readiness to answer the gods’ summons to work.”

What is unique about the recently found collection of ushabti is that there are 365, one for each day of the year.

A short article on Ancient Egypt Online discusses that while the lunar calendar was utilized to determine dates for spiritual celebrations and routines, daily life was structured around the solar calendar of 365 days annually.

Each year consisted of 3, four-month seasons, which were called after considerable occasions associated with their agrarian way of life.

Obelisks, or pyramidions, were frequently set up outdoors as landmarks or monoliths representing the power and consistency of the Sun god Ra. Nevertheless, throughout the spiritual reformation of Akhenaten, the sign was translated as a scared ray of the Sun god Aten (sundisk) representing the god’s presence within the stone body of the structure.

Archaeologists and Khaled El-Enany inspect the ancient Egyptian obelisk and another figurine unearthed at the Saqqara archaeological site.

Obelisks were normally set up to honor occasions or people, honoring the gods for the associated successes and according to Ancient Encyclopedia, the ancient Egyptians began producing obelisks eventually in the Early Dynastic Duration (c. 3150-2613 BC) prior to the building and construction of the Action Pyramid of Djoser ( c. 2670 BC).

It is believed that the earliest obelisks worked as a sort of training for operating in stone on huge jobs, which was an essential action towards pyramid structure.

However, in the context that the brand-new 40 cm (16 inches) high design was found, in the middle of 365 ushabti, it represents the Sun, and its associated god, the magnificent Ra.

The secretary and therapist of the Sun god Ra were Thoth, who according to Ancient Egypt Online was “the One who Made Calculations Concerning the Heavens, the Stars and the Earth” and “the Reckoner of Time and of Seasons” – the “inventor of the 365-day calendar,” which changed the unreliable 360-day calendar.

Together, the 365 ushabti and the obelisk represent the days of the solar year and the Sun of this world, and it is gorgeous to see them surrounding the casket of somebody who is now under the light of another Sun, in another location and time.

Suspected Human Sacrifices Unearthed Beneath Medieval Castle

Suspected Human Sacrifices Unearthed Beneath Medieval Castle

In the 1,000-year-old ruins of Breslov Castle in Southern Moravia, archeologists have confirmed that three skeletons have been identified as victims of ritual killings.

The archaeologist Miroslav Dejmal said: “The individuals had been buried in the foundations of the older phase of the rampart right at the time of its construction.

“In very extreme positions, the three skeletons were found close to one another and were probably tied together.”

The castle in Břeclav, South Moravian, the Czech Republic, where the human sacrifice victims were found.

“These unfortunates seem to have fallen victim to some drastic pagan practice, or murder”, explains Dejmal. “It is hard to imagine that all three died at the same time by accident. And most importantly, placing them on the first layer of stones of the newly rampart and the position of the bodies, suggests they were in fact sacrificed.” 

The Sacrificial Origins of Haunted Houses

Dejmal explains that the men had been placed on the first layer of stones of a newly constructed rampart and their positions also suggested they were sacrificed.

Next week a team of anthropologists will attempt to shine light on the mystery of the three sacrificed men, to learn if they were local and perhaps related, and the archaeologist said it is possible they were prisoners of war enslaved into building the stone walls before being sacrificed or executed.

Archaeologists use the term “foundation sacrifice” when referring to burying a human being beneath, within or upon the foundations of buildings.

An article on JSTOR says in medieval times building a structure was an “affront to the spirits and deities of the land” and to appease them, sacrificial rituals were performed.

Believed to have been transformed by death, the sacrificed became protective spirits that guarded the buildings in which they were entombed, and this concept according to Seán Ó Súilleabháin in his 1945 paper “ Foundation Sacrifices ” is perhaps “the root of our modern haunted-house tales.”

Human sacrifice remains found in the South Moravia, Czech Republic.

Child Trafficking in the 11t​h Century

According to Alan Dundes 1995 paper published in The Journal of American Folklore , all across the Balkans, ballads about foundation sacrifices are so renowned that variants of the tale have been embraced as part of national identity in Hungary, Romania, Serbia, and Greece (among other places).

An Albanian version of the tale “ Rozafa’s Castle ,” tells of “three brothers” laying the walls of a mighty fortress when old man said “the castle spirit seeks a human life.”

And there is plenty of evidence for foundation sacrifice substitution where empty coffins buried under houses representing the dead and coins, eggs, books, candles, bottles of wine and playing cards were used as sacrificial substitutes.

An example of human sacrifice is found in the history of the small village of Vestenberg, 2 1/2 hours from Ansbach in Germany, where a large hill surrounded by a deep moat holds the foundations of ancient stone towers built by the Vestenbergs, the wealthiest family of medieval Franconia.

According to D. L. Ashliman of the University of Pittsburgh, in his paper Human Sacrifice in Legends and Myths , an eighty-year-old woman said that when Vestenberg Castle was being built, the mason built a seat into the wall for a small child whose mother had given it up to be sacrificed for “a large sum of money.”

Return to the Ancient Murder Scene

Returning to the Lednice-Valtice valley, and the early 11th-century building of Břeclav castle, considering how commonplace and widespread foundation sacrifices were at that time, the question of the three men chained together upon the first layer of foundation stones is no longer a mystery as much as it is a point of newfound archaeological interest.

As soon as next week, a new team of archaeologists and anthropologists will head to South Moravia to begin their quest aimed at illustrating the circumstances of their deaths, but they are quite convinced that they will find further layers of evidence of sacrificial ritual.

Ancient Maya kingdom with pyramid discovered in southern Mexico

Ancient Maya kingdom with pyramid discovered in southern Mexico

Since exploring for over a quarter of a century, archeologists have at last discovered the site of Sak Tz’i, a Maya kingdom that’s referenced in sculptures and inscriptions from across the ancient Maya world. But it wasn’t archaeologists who made the find.

A local man discovered a 2- by 4-foot (0.6 by 1.2 meters) tablet near Lacanja Tzeltal, a community in Chiapas, Mexico.

The tablet’s inscriptions are a treasure trove of mythology, poetry, and history that reflect the typical Maya practice of weaving together myth and reality.

A drawing (left) and a digital 3D model (right) of a stone slab found at the newly discovered kingdom.

Various sections of the tablet contain inscriptions that recount a mythical water serpent, various unnamed gods, a mythic flood, and accounts of the births, lives, and battles of ancient rulers, according to a news statement from Brandeis University in Massachusetts. 

Sak Tz’i’ sat on what’s now the border between Mexico and Guatemala, and it probably wasn’t an especially powerful kingdom, Charles Golden, an associate professor of anthropology at Brandeis University, said in the statement. 

Despite being surrounded by stronger neighbors, evidence suggests that the kingdom’s capital city was occupied for more than a millennium after being settled in 750 B.C.

The kingdom’s longevity may be due to the fortifications that surrounded its capital city. The researchers found evidence that the city was protected by a stream with a steep ravine on one side and defensive masonry walls on the other. 

The team members added that the kingdom may have benefitted from forming strategic peace deals with its more powerful neighbors.

Even though this kingdom never achieved great power, “Sak Tz’i’ was a formidable enemy and an important ally to those greater kingdoms, as evidenced by the frequency by which it appears in texts at those sites,” the researchers wrote in the study, published online in the Journal of Field Archaeology.

That said, the kingdom experienced conflict, both with its neighbors and from nature, the archaeological record suggests. For instance, there’s a figure of a dancing ruler carved into the bottom of the tablet.

This ruler is dressed like the god Yopaat, who is associated with violent tropical storms. The figure holds a lightning-bolt ax in his right hand and a stone weapon used in ritual combat in his left hand. 

What’s more, the researchers found another sculpture at the site that appears to tell of a fire that destroyed part of the city during a violent conflict with one of its neighbors.

University of Pennsylvania student Whittaker Schroder (left) and Brown University bioarchaeologist Andrew Scherer (right) excavate the remains of the Maya ball court.

Since excavation began in the summer, the researchers have identified several structures that offer insight into political, religious, and commercial life in the kingdom. These include the remains of pyramids, a royal palace, and a ball court. 

One of the capital’s most striking features, the ruins of a pyramid that once stood 45 feet (14 m) tall, is surrounded by structures that might have served as houses for elites and religious rituals, the researchers said.

The pyramid also has a number of stelae (carved stone slabs) around it, including one showing the soles of nobles’ feet facing outward toward the viewer, “an unusual depiction otherwise featured only on a few Maya vases,” the researchers wrote in the study.

In addition, the researchers uncovered a 1.5-acre (0.6 hectares) courtyard called the Plaza Muk’ ul Ton, or Monuments Plaza, where people gathered for religious and political ceremonies.  The discovery marks a major step forward in the study of the ancient Maya world.

The researchers hope further analysis of the site’s architecture and detailed inscriptions will offer new insight into the politics, economy, rituals, and warfare of the Maya civilization’s western regions.  Going forward, the archaeologists plan to use lidar — or light detection and ranging — a tool that uses lasers and can be mounted on an airplane or drone to discover architecture and topography hidden under the dense jungle canopy.

The team is especially interested in how kingdoms such as Sak Tz’i’ managed to survive for so long, despite apparently never becoming as powerful as rival kingdoms in the region.  

Archaeology breakthrough: 2,000-year-old ‘mini Pompeii’ discovered in France

Archaeology breakthrough: 2,000-year-old ‘mini Pompeii’ discovered in France

This find took place in the district of Sainte-Colombe, southern Lyon, and was dubbed a Mini Pompei by its similarity to the Roman town buried in Naples after the Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D.

Archaeologists have discovered vestiges of armor worn by what they believed to be a retired Roman officer, as well as beautiful mosaics and pottery frozen in time.

Like the famous Pompeii, experts believe that the city was buried under ash and debris after a huge disaster, but it did not follow a volcanic eruption.

The site’s main archaeologist, Benjamin Clement, told PBS in 2017: “So we’ve just discovered the pieces of huge armor from the first century.

“Here we have a small part of the belt and this type of decoration comes from the belt on the front of the armor.

Archaeologists uncovered a mini Pompeii
The discovery was made near Lyon

“We have all the parts of the armor, all the little parts that come out of it.

“Only 10 minutes ago we found a little sword, I’ll show it to you.”

“If you come and look, we also have all the protection for the shoulders. “

Clement explained how the findings provide insight into life over two millennia ago. He added, “Mosaics are really interesting because they are part of art, like a statue.

“But for the understanding of the lifestyle of the Roman people, most of them were from the middle and lower classes.

Ancient pottery shows how the Roman Empire was cooking and eating

The French Minister of Culture, Marie-Agnès Gaidon Bunel, added: “There has been an increase in clandestine treasure hunting in France in recent years, with objects recovered from archaeological sites, which we are not at all happy.

“The Minister of Culture is trying to combat this practice because the removal of these objects from their archaeological framework prevents us from dating the site and they are actively marketed outside of France.”

Some have called the discovery the most important of the past 50 years, as it helps to rebuild the stronghold of the Roman Empire over France.

Unlike Pompeii, tourists will not be able to get a first-hand look at the site, as it has now been reconstructed, with an apartment complex and parking.

Paleolithic Engraving Found on Burial Slab in Israel

Human Figure Detected on 14,000-year-old Burial Slab in Israel

HAIFA, ISRAEL—According to researchers Danny Rosenberg, György Lengyel, Dani Nadel, and Rivka Chasan of the University of Haifa have found an engraving on a Natufian burial slab discovered in northern Israel’s Raqefet Cave.

The human figure on a Natufian burial slab: Actual and illustration

The researchers suggest the image resembles a dancing shaman, or perhaps a person dressed as an animal, or even a lizard, and that Natufian burial rites may have been more complex than previously thought.

The stone, which was carried up a cliff and into the cave, was found covering the remains of several people who died between 14,000 and 12,000 years ago.

The picture on the slab is an extremely rare example of a recognizable human figure made by Natufians, the researchers say.

According to scholars, Danny Rosenberg, Györgie Lengyel, and Dani Nadel and researchers, Rivka Chasan, in their recent paper in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology, the Natufian culture exists from around 15,000 to about 11,700 years ago and extend from Sinai in south-northern Syria and east into Jordanian desert.

The protracted period of transition from Paleolithic hunter-gatherer society to Neolithic agriculture that started around 15,000 years ago in the Mediterranean region is dubbed the Natufian period.

Small nomadic groups gave way to complex sedentary or semi-sedentary communities that existed on the threshold of an agricultural society.

At some sites, archaeologists tend to agree that the Natufians actually settled year-round in hamlets. As they settled and began to farm (and had dogs), the Natufians established what may be the earliest distinct cemeteries, where communities buried at least some of their dead.

At least some others who were dearly departed were relegated to beneath the floor of the home or laid to rest nearby.

The incised slab with the humanoid image in Raqefet Cave: front, back and profile

But it seems that when they did bury their dead, Natufian mortuary practices were elaborate.

Their funerals may have featured gathering and feasting, and – going by the newly found crude depiction – dancing.

The figure on the slab could plausibly be a shaman with an exposed penis or be dressed up as an animal, in which case the protuberance could be a tail.

Or maybe it was a lizard. In time, hopefully, more slabs will be found and examination with advanced technology will shed new light on this intriguing phenomenon, the researchers add.