A bioarchaeological study of plastered skulls from Anatolia: new discoveries and interpretations



Skull removal and the modelling of facial features on dry human skulls occurred in central Anatolia during the late Neolithic period (ca. 6000–5000 BC) at the site of Köşk Höyük. This paper describes significant new evidence for plastered and undecorated skulls from Köşk Höyük that is inconsistent with prior interpretations of these remains as that of an ancestor cult. Rather, this new evidence strongly suggests a funerary ritual in the Near East that focused on the skulls of males, females and children. It also highlights the need for continued bioarchaeological research on such skulls. This paper describes newly discovered plastered skulls and skulls that were cached but not necessarily decorated from Köşk Höyük, Turkey. It provides the archaeological context, visual description, and osteological analysis of the remains of 12 adult skulls, ten modelled and two plain. In addition, a plastered child's skull was reported in the past. A bioarchaeological study of the primary material indicates that the skulls of males and females were removed from their bodies after natural decomposition, without manual defleshing, followed by applications of plaster modelling. The skulls of both sexes and all ages were modelled in a similar manner, although crania of three females exhibited healed depressed fractures. Plastered skulls from Köşk Höyük were recovered along with funerary offerings of beads, bone tools, and possibly copper, and derived from a variety of intramural contexts. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.