9,000 year-old mask decorated with paint from the Nahal Hemar Cave, Judean Desert
Image credit Elie Posner © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Ilan Ben Zion, writing for the The Times of Israel, reports on the exhibition Face to Face: The Oldest Masks in the World which is now on show at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem and which features twelve limestone Neolithic cult masks never before displayed together –
Weighing in at one or two kilograms apiece, each of the artifacts represents a oval visage with glaring ocular cavities, toothy maws, and a set of holes along the outer edge. They were likely painted in antiquity, but only one has remnants of pigment. Each of the 12 is unique, and possibly depicts individuals. Some of the faces are old, others appear younger. One is a miniature, the size of a brooch. They may represent ancestors venerated as part of an early Stone Age religion.
“It is important to say that these are not living people, these are spirits,” said Dr. Debby Hershman, curator of prehistoric cultures at the Israel Museum, who organized the exhibit. She was reluctant to place a mask from the exhibit over her face out of reverence for bygone traditions.
The 12 masks will be on display from March 11 until September 13 in the Israel Museum’s archaeology wing. In keeping with the Neolithic theme, Snyder compared the display to England’s Stonehenge. Twelve glass pillars arranged in a circle will hold the masks at eye level so visitors can see them from all angles.