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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
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Oldest Known Masks in the World on Display in Israel

Happy Purim? One of 11 of the oldest masks in the world on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Happy Purim? One of 11 of the oldest masks in the world on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Photo Credit: Israel Museum

A new display in Jerusalem is showcasing the oldest-known masks in the world, believed to have originated 9,000 years ago, long before Purim.

The 11 masks are made of stones and were discovered in the Judean desert near Jerusalem. Experts believe the masks were meant to look like skulls, with each displaying a unique personality via emotional expressions of shock or grinning.

“When you go back to objects that are this old, that are so much before the theology that becomes Judaism, Christianity and then Islam, to feel that there is a kind of a connection, that this is all part of a continuous story, is something that is pretty thrilling,” said Israel Museum director James Snyder, the Associated Press reported.

The custom of mask making and wearing dates back at least 25,000 years although no masks that old have been found, according to exhibit curator Debby Hershman, with the earliest masks most likely made of animal materials. Later, stone masks originated at the time when humans living in the Fertile Crescent adopted agriculture.

“It’s the most important revolution that ever happened,” Hershman said. The people who fashioned the masks, she said, “are actually the founders of civilization.”

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5 Responses to “Oldest Known Masks in the World on Display in Israel”

  1. Cheri Fistel says:

    There are holes around the sides of the mask that would mean that the mask was fastened on. Does the mouth allow for breathing, or the nose? I am afraid to say more.

  2. Maynard Miller says:

    That mask looks a lot like John Kerry.

  3. It looks heavy and uncomfortable, doesn't it? Of all the building materials they had, why would they use stone unless it was for a very special occasion/ceremony/ritual? Wouldn't it be nice to look back in time to see exactly what was going on in those moments? Hopefully, they'll uncover extra artifacts to shed light on their purpose.

    It reminds me of the death mask from the original Twilight Zone.

  4. Cheri Fistel says:

    I believe it was not for a celebritory for the wearer.

  5. Cheri Fistel, yeah, it doesn't look like it. And even though it has a smile, when you look at the sunken eyes, the smile suddenly looks more like a grimace of pain or a smile tempered by sadness.

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