A stone mask from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period was discovered in the Pnei Hever region of the southern Hebron Hills.
It was recovered by the Israeli Antiquities Authority's Theft Prevention Unit months ago, and an initial study of the mask will be presented Thursday at the Israel Prehistoric Society annual meeting.
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The mask is made of pinkish-yellow limestone, shaped with stone tools to resemble a human face, according to the Antiquities Authority. Four holes had been drilled along the mask's perimeter, probably in order to display the mask on a pole or to thread string to tie the mask onto the face.
The stone's high level of finish and delineation of cheek bones and a mouth with carved teeth render the mask a distinct find, said Ronit Lupu of the authority's Theft Prevention Unit.
"It is even more unusual that we know which site it came from," Lupu said. "The fact that we have information regarding the specific place it was discovered makes this mask more important than most other masks from this period that we currently know of."
The mask's appearance and other findings from the archaeological site provide clues that the dating of the mask is from approximately 9,000 years ago.
Stone masks from this period are linked to the agricultural revolution, in which the population shifted from hunting and gathering to raising plants and animals. The revolution also marked a change in social characteristics, in which archaeologists have noted an increase in religious and ritual activity. Material finds from ritual activities of the time include figurines, stone masks and other objects relating to the human form.
Ancestor worship is one example of ritualistic activities, and is evident by the number of plastered skulls and masks found in domestic houses from this time period, according to Lupu and Dr. Omry Barzilai, head of the Antiquity Authority's archaeological research department.
Fifteen masks have been discovered so far around the world that date from this time period, although only two have been found within an archaeological site. The rest have been recovered from private collections, making it difficult to ascertain information about their original source.
The Pnei Hever mask joins others that have been discovered in the southern Hebron Hills – Judean Desert area, adding to the evidence that masks may have been produced locally.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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