Archaeologists have recently verified that an eerie stone mask that was unearthed close to the Israeli settlement of Pnei Hever in the West Bank is 9,000 years of age and is a Neolithic relic from a bygone era.
At first glance, the stone mask almost appears to look more at home on the set of a horror film like Friday the 13th than it does in a desert setting, yet when the Theft Prevention Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recovered the mask, it took them to straight back to the “probable archaeological site in which the mask was originally found,” which was an ancient settlement in Israel, as National Geographic reports.
Interestingly, 15 other similar Neolithic stone masks have previously been discovered in the Judean Desert, and with many having questioned just how authentic these 15 were, the discovery of the 16th mask couldn’t have come at a better time. Ronit Lupu, from the IAA’s Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit, was part of the team that uncovered the location where the mask had originally come from, and stated, “It’s amazing, it’s beautiful. You see it and you want to cry from happiness.”
Omry Barzilai, who heads up the IAA’s Archaeological Research Department, explained that the Neolithic mask is extremely important as it would have been made and worn around the time that people began to move into farming societies and away from the hunter-gatherer lives they had once known. This, of course, would have helped to create a completely new culture in which rituals may have played a large part.
“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.”
University of Nevada, Las Vegas anthropology professor Alan Simmons agreed with the assertion that rituals and religion played a much larger role in the lives of those living in the first farming societies, noting, “Once you get larger populations and more people living in one place, you need some social control. That’s why you start to see more formalized, ritual behavior.”
With many wondering what these 9,000-year-old masks were used for, the answer to this is currently unknown as the masks could have had many and varied purposes. It is certainly possible that the Neolithic stone masks were created to be used in funerary rituals or perhaps some other kinds of rituals, but they could also have been fashioned for something completely different.
As archaeology professor Yorke Rowan explained, even having discovered where one of the stone masks was found is not going to bring us any closer to knowing what they were actually used for.
“Even if we could find the site that the mask comes from, that really doesn’t tell us anything about how it was used. Would it have been found with a burial? In a ritual context, like some sort of sanctuary? These are the types of questions that can only be answered by getting the archaeological context.”
With so many different uses that the 9,000-year-old Neolithic stone masks could have had, archaeologists are hopeful that one day they may actually learn what the 16 masks were originally intended for.