A unique item has been uncovered in the vicinity of an ancient burial site located in southern Syria. The item, a "wand" that has two faces engraved on it, is estimated to thousands of years old. According to Haaretz, the artifact was found in an area that is "among the few" archaeological sites not damaged by the fighting in Syria over the past few years. The find was made in a region where experts believe the first farmers emerged.
An ancient 'wand'
First uncovered during archaeological digs in 2007 and 2009, experts have dated the "wand" to be about 9,000 years old. It is about 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) in length and is described as being constructed from the rib of an auroch, reported io9. An auroch is an ancestor of the modern cow that went extinct in 1627 (and may make a return presence as scientists seek to revive this ancient beast through genetic expertise and old-fashioned breeding).
As noted, the ancient relic has two human faces engraved on it; the eyes on the people are carved as being closed. It is believed the wand was originally longer with more faces engraved on it. The artifact was uncovered at an Early Neolithic site known as Tell Qarassa.
"The find is very unusual. It's unique," said study co-author Frank Braemer, an archaeologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France, according to Live Science.
There are no other artifacts that display humans in natural form from this era or location, noted Braemer.
Archaeologists believe the wand could help identify ancient rituals performed during that period of history. While the wand's true purpose remains a mystery, there are some theories of how it was used. The wand was discovered near a burial site where 30 headless skeletons had been found during an earlier excavation. Experts believed the wand was used by these earlier civilizations during burial ceremonies as part of the customs of that time. Although, what kind of rituals were performed is speculative at this point.
"The origins of the Neolithic in the Near East were accompanied by significant ritual and symbolic innovations. New light is thrown on the social context of these changes by the discovery of a bone wand displaying two engraved human faces from the Early Neolithic site of Tell Qarassa in Syria, dating from the late ninth millennium BC," researchers said in the study.
Researchers go on to say the wand could "betoken" a way of perceiving human identity and facing unavoidable death. "By representing the deceased in visual form the living and the dead were brought closer together," suggest researchers.
The full study was published in the March edition of the journal Antiquity.
Destruction of ancient sites
Since the fighting in Syria commenced in 2011, many archeological sites have reportedly seen much destruction and illegal looting and excavations. The New York Times reported on March 7, 2014 experts say the fighting is "obliterating its cultural history." So far the site where the wand was found is intact, but there is clear concern about the historical loss occurring throughout the war-torn nation.
"Objects are not just stones," said Irina Bokova, the head of Unesco, reported the NYT. "This is about the identity of the Syrian people, and destroying the identity of people is a big blow to their communities."