Israel Antiquities Authority/Howard Smithline

A prominent nose dominates this anthropomorphic ossuary lid, found in a Chalcolithic period (4500–3500 B.C.E.) burial cave at Peqi’in, in the hills of Galilee. Many of the Peqi’in ossuaries—stone or ceramic boxes about 2 feet long that contain the reinterred bones of corpses—are decorated with eyes, beards, noses, mouths and hands, perhaps to symbolize the deceased whose bones were buried within.

Other grave goods found in the cave—such as burial jars, flint disks and an ivory statuette—reflect the artistic styles of contemporaneous Chalcolithic subcultures that long were thought to have existed in relative isolation from one another (see the sidebar to this article). The Peqi’in cave was evidently a regional mortuary center, where people came from great distances to bury their dead. But the cave was destroyed sometime in the late Chalcolithic period: Ossuaries were smashed, their contents desecrated. And the cave was deliberately sealed. It lay undisturbed until the spring of 1995.