A 9,000-Year-Old Stone Mask From The Neolithic Era Was Just Unveiled In Israel

Published June 11, 2024

Just 16 similar masks have ever been found, and they were likely used by an ancient people as a form of ancestor worship.

Neolithic Stone Mask

Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities AuthorityThe stone mask was probably created by the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) culture group.

In 2018, archaeologists made a stunning find in the West Bank: a stone mask with gaping round eyes and a mouth carved into a faint smile. The mask is 9,000 years old, and it has just been put on display for the first time.

Archaeologists say that this rare find was once an important cultural item for the ancient people who lived during the Neolithic era.

‘Perfect And Symmetrical’: A Look At The 9,000-Year-Old Mask

The stone mask was first discovered in Hebron, an Israeli-occupied area in the West Bank. It’s now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, giving the public a chance to see the artifact for the first time.

An astonishing 9,000 years old, the mask is carved from pink-yellow limestone — and shows a surprising level of craftsmanship.

“Discovering a mask made of stone, at such a high level of finish, is very exciting,” Ronit Lupu of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Theft Prevention Unit said in an IAA statement about the mask from 2018.

Mask From The Side

Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities AuthorityA view of the 9,000-year-old stone mask from the side.

Lupu continued: “The stone has been completely smoothed over and the features are perfect and symmetrical, even delineating cheekbones. It has an impressive nose and a mouth with distinct teeth.”

In addition to the facial features, there are also several holes in the mask, which might have once been used to attach it to something, such as a pole or someone’s face.

Indeed, archaeologists suspect that the stone mask was used by an ancient culture as a form of ancestor worship.

Ancestor Worship In The Pre-Pottery Neolithic Period

The mask found in Hebron is one of just 16 ever uncovered — some of which were also found in Hebron — which makes it an especially fascinating discovery. It also provides a clue about the Pre-Pottery Neolithic culture.

Holding The Stone Mask

Xinhua / Alamy Stock PhotoIAA archaeologist Ronit Lupu holds the stone mask after its discovery in 2018.

According to the IAA, stone masks are “linked to the agricultural revolution.” As cultures transitioned from hunting and gathering to agriculture, they also experienced a “sharp increase in ritual-religious activities.”

During this time, according to Lupu, ancient people practiced “ancestor worship,” and their art often seemed especially focused on human faces.

“It was part of the ritual and retention of family heritage that was accepted at the time. For example, we find skulls buried under the floors of domestic houses, as well as various methods of shaping and caring for the skulls of the dead,” Lupu explained, according to The Times of Israel.

Lupu continued: “This led to plastering skulls, shaping facial features, and even inserting shells for eyes. Stone masks… are similar in size to the human face, which is why scholars tend to connect them with such worship.”

This mask is particularly fascinating to researchers because of where it was found. It’s often difficult — if not impossible — to know where an artifact like this came from. However, in the case of this stone mask, archaeologists are confident that they know exactly where it originated.

Hebron Hills

delayed gratification/FlickrThe Hebron Hills, where the 9,000-year-old stone mask was found.

“The fact that we have information regarding the specific place in which it was discovered makes this mask more important than most other masks from this period that we currently know of,” Lupu remarked.

Currently, the mask is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem as part of the “Common Ground: Israeli Art Meets Archaeology” exhibit, which pairs ancient artifacts with contemporary art.

After reading about the 9,000-year-old stone mask from the Neolithic era unveiled in Israel, look through these incredible photographs of Native American masks from the early 20th century. Or, discover the curious story of King Tut’s famous mask.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "A 9,000-Year-Old Stone Mask From The Neolithic Era Was Just Unveiled In Israel." AllThatsInteresting.com, June 11, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/neolithic-stone-mask. Accessed June 21, 2024.