The center of the world 8,000 years ago was not New York, London or Paris. It was Sha‘ar ha-Golan. This well-planned village has emerged a mile south of the Sea of Galilee in the Jordan Valley, over the course of eight excavation seasons since 1989. It has the earliest street system found anywhere in Israel and was apparently the largest settlement in the Near East at a critical transition in the social evolution of human beings: the beginning of agriculture and the subsequent development of settled communities.

The site has produced one of the richest collections of prehistoric art in the world. More than 200 female figurines made of clay or stone have been found there, examples of which are now on display in Jerusalem (Israel Museum, Bible Lands Museum), New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Paris (Musée de Louvre). The two well-preserved clay female figurines shown here were uncovered in the 2001 excavation. Figurines representing human forms are very rare in prehistoric excavations, especially figurines as complete as these.

The seated figures are between 6 and 7 inches tall. Each is shown with her left arm supporting her breasts and her right hand resting on her right knee. Both have broad hips and legs and elongated heads; one has oblique eyes resembling coffee beans. The figure on the left bears herringbone incisions on her shoulders, arm and leg. Herringbone incisions are common on pottery at Sha‘ar ha-Golan but we have never before seen them on a representation of a human being.

Speculation is rife on the meaning and function of the “mother goddess” or “fertility figurines” in the Neolithic period (8300–4500 B.C.E.). Until recently, however, data supporting such theories has been scarce. This may now change with the availability of the abundant cache of iconographic representations of the female figure discovered at the Neolithic village at Sha‘ar ha-Golan.