The mask is only one of 15 in the world.
Rare Stone Mask Unearthed in West Bank Linked to Ancient Rituals
Archaeologists believe that a rare stone artifact discovered in the southern West Bank was used in ancient times as a worship tool during a pivotal period in Neolithic culture. The stone mask is associated with the beginning of an agricultural society and is one of only 15 known worldwide.
Intricate Mask Found Near Pnei Hever
Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) explained that archaeologists excavated the intricate mask in a field near Pnei Hever, a West Bank settlement east of Hebron. The mask was handed over to Israeli authorities in early 2018.
A High Level of Craftsmanship
According to IAA archaeologist Ronit Lupu, the mask is believed to have been used in several ancient rituals. “Discovering a mask made of stone at such a high level of finish is very exciting. The stone has been completely smoothed over, and the features are perfect and symmetrical, even delineating cheekbones,” Lupu explained.
Designed for Wear and Display
The mask, say experts, was not only an aesthetical object but was crafted and meant to be worn, as it features four holes drilled into its edges, allowing it to be tied onto something else. The mask has a stunning smooth finish and was likely covered in vivid colors over 9,000 years ago.
One of Only 15 Worldwide
The mask is unique because only fifteen other masks have been found elsewhere in the world. Furthermore, only two of the masks have a certain place of origin, which allows archaeologists to place them in a specific age and culture.
Link to Agricultural Revolution
“Stone masks are linked to the agricultural revolution,” according to Omry Barzilai, head of the IAA Archaeological Research Department. “The transition from an economy based on hunting and gathering to ancient agriculture and domestication of plants and animals was accompanied by a change in social structure and a sharp increase in ritual-religious activities.”
Connection to Ancestral Worship
Ritual findings from that period include human-shaped figurines, plastered skulls, and stone masks. “It was part of the ritual and retention of family heritage that was accepted at the time. So, for example, we find skulls buried under the floors of domestic houses, as well as various methods of shaping and caring for the skulls of the dead,” Lupu said. “Stone masks, such as the one from Pnei Hever, are similar in size to the human face, so scholars tend to connect them with such worship.”
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