A 9000-year-old stone mask – with a sharp nose and eerie oval-shaped holes for eyes – has been found at an archaeological site close to the Israeli settlement of Pnei Hever in the West Bank. The artifact, according to Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) spokesperson Ronit Lupu, was discovered by a man walking through a field, who later handed it over to IAA’s Antiquities Theft Protection department. Speaking about the find, Lupu said –
This was an innocent find, and the person who found it was the person who showed us where he found it.
As per experts, the mask was likely uncovered as a result of centuries of agricultural activities. In the past, several other Neolithic artifacts were unearthed at the field. Apart from eyes and a narrow slit for mouth, the newly-found mask features a number of intricate details, including teeth carved around the mouth. Lupu added –
I love the cheeks — it has cheekbones.
This, however, isn’t the first time that archaeologists have come across such strange, prehistoric masks. Back in March of 2014, an exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem brought forth a collection of what was touted as the “world’s oldest masks”. Painstakingly crafted from stones, these 9,000-year old artifacts were made by the early farmers of the Judean Hills region.
In essence, there is a historical significance to these artifacts, given how the immediate ancestors of the prehistoric farmer-craftsmen in Levant were the ones (among many) to sow the ‘seeds’ of human civilizations by making the transition from hunting-and-gathering to introducing a range of founder crops like barley, lentils, chickpeas, emmer and flax. And beyond just chronological significance, these ancient Neolithic masks also allude to the development of culture and religion, as the objects probably symbolized the spirits of dead ancestors – and thus were possibly used in Stone Age rituals. Speaking on the topic, Lupu explained –
When we talk about the Neolithic period, we talk about the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to permanent settlements. People are starting to domesticate plants and animals. This is a time when the spiritual world is very strong.
From the archaeological perspective, the mask specimens were (probably) salvaged from various areas in and around the Judean Hills and the Judean desert, in proximity to Jerusalem. For example, one particular specimen was discovered in 1983 inside the Nahal Hemar cave along a cliff by the Dead Sea; while another was found fortuitously, and quite aptly, when a ‘modern’ farmer was tilling his field in the nearby site of Horvat Duma.
In addition to the mask in the earlier-mentioned case of the cave, researchers had also uncovered wooden beads, shells, flint knives and embroidered clothes (that were possibly worn during rituals), along with macabre objects like figurines made of bones and human skulls ‘decorated’ with asphalt.
Now since we brought up the macabre scope of these discoveries, there is no denying the sense of eeriness one could attribute to these Neolithic masks. As Debby Hershman, curator of the Israel Museum’s Prehistoric Cultures Department made it clear –
Many of them look like dead people. In fact, I think they’re portraits of specific people — probably important ancestors.
As stated by Lupu and the team from IAA, over the last few years, archaeologists have also unearthed skulls covered in plaster and dating back to the same period, in and around the site. The findings of the latest survey were presented recently at the annual meeting of the Israel Prehistoric Society.
Via/Image Source: Live Science