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Oldest Paintings of People in the Middle East May 27, 1998
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

[image] Members of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona team uncovering the paintings. (© M. Mollist/UAB/Eurelios) [LARGER IMAGE]

Rescue excavators working in advance of construction of the Tchrine Dam in the Euphrates Valley have discovered more than 20 painted silhouettes of women dating to 8,500 years ago at Tell Halula in northern Syria. The paintings are the oldest human representations yet found in the Middle East. A team from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona under the direction of Miquel Molist, excavating the floor of a dwelling, found both profile and frontal images emphasizing female fertility and ritual dance. Molist is unsure why the artists decided to paint on the floor rather than the walls. The paintings have been transported to the archaeological museum of Aleppo, where they will be restored and soon put on display.

The team has been able to trace the progressive domestication of goat, sheep, cattle, and pigs, as well as different kinds of cereals, and has also found a 300-foot-long wall, some of the earliest monumental architecture in the Middle East. Another surprising discovery at the site was a group of nine burials clustered under the floor of one dwelling, evidence, Molist says, that the living shared their houses with the dead. The team will undertake two more excavation seasons at Tell Halula before floodwaters drown the site.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America