A Mysterious 9,000-Year-Old Mask Has Been Excavated in Southern West Bank

The mask is only one of 15 in the world.

Archaeologists believe that the rare stone artifact uncovered in southern West Bank was used in ancient times as a worship tool during a pivotal period in Neolithic culture.

The stone mask has been linked to the start of an agricultural society and is one of only 15 in the world.

As explained by experts from the Isreal Antiquities Authority (IAA), the intricate mask was excavated by archaeologists in a field near Pnei Hever, a West Bank settlement east of Hebron. The mask was handed over to Isreali authorities in early 2018.

The 9,000-Year-Old Mask is one one of fifteen in the world. Image Credit: Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit, Israel Antiquities Authority.
The 9,000-Year-Old Mask is one one of fifteen in the world. Image Credit: Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The mask is believed to have been used in a number of ancient rituals according to IAA archaeologist Ronit Lupu.

“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. It has an impressive nose and a mouth with distinct teeth,” Lupu explained.

The mask, say, experts, was not only an aesthetical object but was crafted and meant to be worn, as it features our holes drilled into its edges which allowed it to be tied onto something else.

The mask has stunning smooth finished and was likely covered in vivid colors more than 9,000 years ago.

The mask is special because only fifteen other masks have been found elsewhere in the world. Only two of the masks have a certain place of origin, as archaeologists know exactely where they were found, which allows them to place them in a specific age and culture.

The remaining thirteen masks “are in private collections throughout the world, which makes it more difficult to study them,” the IAA explained in a statemen.

“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. 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. 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. “This led to plastering skulls, shaping facial features, and even inserting shells for eyes. Stone masks, such as the one from Pnei Hever, are similar in size to the human face, which is why scholars tend to connect them with such worship.”

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