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Limestone, paint, asphalt

H: 26.5 cm; W: 15.5 cm



Archaeology/Prehistoric Periods

This mask was found in a cave on the banks of Nahal Hemar, a dry riverbed in the Judean Desert, its name derived from the Hebrew word for asphalt (hemar), which wells up near the Dead Sea. Made of limestone, this is the largest of the four Neolithic stone masks found thus far in Israel and the only complete example found within a confirmed archaeological context. The back is hollowed out, and the thickness of the mask is uniform and symmetrical throughout. The chin is painted, the small mouth open, with four teeth in both the upper and lower jaw. The cheekbones are prominent and the high forehead is domed, producing a skeletal impression. A radial design has been made with red, green, and possibly white paint, while thin red and white lines outline the round eyes. Eighteen irregular holes are cut into the sides of the mask. Masks served many functions, but primarily invested the wearer with mystery and supernatural powers.

From the Israel Museum publications:

The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005

Zalmona, Yigal, ed., The Israel Museum at 40: Masterworks of Beauty and Sanctity, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2005

Beauty and Sanctity: the Israel Museum at 40. A Series of Exhibitions Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Zalmona, Yigal, 2006


The Beauty of Sanctity: Masterworks from Every Age, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 29/03/2005 - 12/11/2005
Many Faces: Masks from Many Times and Many Places, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Ruth Youth Wing, 08/04/2009 - 30/11/2009
Face to Face: The Oldest Masks in the World, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 11/03/2014 - 11/09/2014

Digital presentation of this object was made possible by:
The Ridgefield Foundation, New York, in memory of Henry J. and Erna D. Leir