“Face to Face: The Oldest Masks in the World” features 12 limestone cult masks from the Neolithic Age. These 9,000-year-old masks, found in the Judean Desert and Hills, will be on display from March 11 until September 13 in the Israel Museum’s archaeology wing in Jerusalem. The exhibition concludes a decade of investigative work and marks the first time that this enigmatic group will be displayed together in their place of origin. Read more about them here.
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.
“Other groups likely made other masks from other materials that did not withstand the test of time”, said Dr. Debby Hershman, curator of prehistoric cultures at the Israel Museum, who organized the exhibit. These fortunate few were made of stone and were preserved in the arid desert climate.
The history of art, is the history of what survives. Especially in Africa, we can only wonder about the masks that once existed.