Why? To ward off demons, the source of most illness.
Ancient Jews used skulls in ceremonies despite ban'
By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Correspondent
Newly published archaeological evidence attests to the fact that ancient Jews used human skulls in ceremonies, despite a strict Halakhic prohibition on touching human remains.
British researcher Dan Levene from the University of Southampton published findings in Biblical Archaeological Review about the human skulls, known as incantation bowls, some of which bear inscriptions in Aramaic.
The skulls were unearthed in present-day Iraq (formerly Babylonia) and are believed to have been used during the Talmudic era. At least one of them appears to be that of an anonymous woman.
"When I presented these findings in Israel, people told me, 'It is not possible that this is Jewish,'" said Levene. "But it is certainly Jewish."
Levene added that, despite going against conventional wisdom, the talisman was likely used by someone desperate, and that there have been past cases of skulls being used to ward off increased ghosts or demons.
"The fact remains that belief in demons was widespread at this time among Jews as well as other peoples," writes Levene. "Incantation bowls are known not only from Jewish communities but from other communities as well."
To combat demons - who cause medical problems as well as other mishaps and ills - people invoked numerous magic rites and formulas.
This is the same milieu that gave us metzitza b'peh, negel wasser, and dozens of halakhic practices meant to ward off shadim. And – less the skulls – it is the Judaism haredim want us to "return" to.