The people of Neolithic Jericho buried their dead under the floors of their houses in a practice interpreted as a form of ancestor worship. While complete bodies were often buried, sometimes the head was removed and carefully reconstructed using colored plaster. Red and black paint was used to mimic facial features and shells, such as cowries, were used to create white eyes. The result was a lifelike representation of the deceased and the practice has been considered by some scholars to be one of the earliest examples of portrait making. Similar examples of plastered skulls have been found at other sites across the Near East.
Painted pottery vase, black and red, Neolithic period, late third millennium B.C.E., from Lanzhou, Gansu province, China. (Art courtesy The Art Archive / Genius of China Exhibition.)