In the 1990s, leading Israeli scholar Yosef Garfinkel, head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, led several seasons of excavations at the Neolithic site of Sha’ar Hagolan in northern Israel. Among other things, the researchers uncovered several clay figurines depicting the deity Mother goddess presenting unnaturally elongated heads. For their artistic qualities, the figurines were exhibited in the most important museums around the world. For Garfinkel, they represented the spark which prompted him to investigate a new field of research, the history of human dance.
“While I was trying to understand more about their specific shape, I came across other figurines with elongated heads, dancing figurines,” he explained to The Jerusalem Post.
From that initial trigger, Garfinkel would eventually author a book and most recently a paper which reformulates the way of looking at this form of art.
“Most of the existing academic work about the history of dance focuses on the past 400 years in Europe, with some research done also on ancient Greek, Egypt and Mesopotamia. However, my view is that it is necessary to dramatically expand the horizon, potentially going back to even half a million years ago,” he added.
The archaeologist has suggested that the evolution of dance can be divided into five different phases, presenting increasing sophistication.