August 30, 2012

Jerusalem Ram And Bovine Figurines Dated Back 9,500 Years

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Two small figurines discovered near Jerusalem have been dated between 9,000 and 9,500 years ago and support the notion that religion and society played a significant role during the Stone Age.

According to a press release by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the ram and wild bovine statuettes were found while the authority was excavating near Tel Motza prior to work on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, a few miles north of Jerusalem.

Archeologists are speculating that the two artifacts may have been good luck charms that were carried by hunters.

“It is known that hunting was the major activity in this period,” Hamoudi Khalaily, director of the dig, said in the IAA press release. The figurines “may have been the focus of a traditional ceremony the hunters performed before going out into the field to pursue their prey.”

The objects were found near the fieldstone and mud foundation of a round building, according to Khalaily and fellow archaeologist Anna Eirikh. The ram figurine was made with twisting horns and measured 15 cm in diameter. Cut from from limestone, its legs were made with simple incisions to distinguish them from the rest of the body. The bovine figurine resembles a large animal with prominent horns and was sculpted from smoothed dolomite.

“The sculpting is extraordinary and precisely depicts details of the animal´s image,” Khalaily said. “The head and horns protrude in front of the body and their proportions are extremely accurate.”

When placed within the existing archeological context, the discovery reinforces the role of religion in the lives of the Stone Age populations that lived in the Middle East at that time. "The archaeological evidence from this period, particularly the artistic objects such as the figurines that were discovered, teaches us about the religious life, the worship and the beliefs of Neolithic society. Other evidence has been derived from the study of tombs and funerary customs of the same prehistoric society," Khalaily said.

Eirikh presented an alternative theory to the idea that the artifacts were carried by hunters and linked the figurines to the advent of animal domestication that was beginning to occur at the time.

The Natufian people, whose culture flourished in the region slightly before the creation of the figurines, lived by hunting and gathering. Animal bones recovered from this time period show that gazelle were probably the Natufian hunters´ main prey, in addition to deer, aurochs and wild boar.

According to research, the Natufian communities were the precursors to the first Neolithic settlements of the region and probably the world. Some evidence points to the cultivation of wild cereals, that would have been made possible by a worldwide climate change shift that occurred around 10,000 years ago.

Archeologists have speculated that the Natufian began the domestication of dogs around this time and the high incidence of immature goat and gazelle bones at the archeological site known as Nahal Oren points to the domestication of these animals, supporting Eirikh´s theory. Gazelles may have eventually fallen out of favor for domestication because goats are less selective in their diet and can adapt better to a changing environment.