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Ancient Mask Dating Back 9,500 Years Found in Hebron Hills

Rare find offers new insights into prehistoric religious practices.

A rare and ancient stone mask dating back more than 9,500 years has been discovered on Mount Hebron, shedding new light on prehistoric religious practices in the area. This remarkable archaeological find will be displayed for the first time at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The mask was unearthed by an archaeological team from the Civil Administration near the settlement of Pnei Hever. Made of dolomitic limestone, it has been dated to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period in the 8th millennium BCE.

This artifact is part of an exceptionally small and rare group of just 16 ancient stone masks known worldwide, all found in the confined areas of the Hebron Hills, the Judean Desert, and the Jordan River Valley. This localized pattern strongly suggests that the masks were part of a shared cult, ritual system, or set of beliefs among the region’s inhabitants during that prehistoric era.

The newly discovered mask exhibits a remarkably refined design, emphasizing large eye sockets and an open mouth area. Notably, the mask’s teeth are carved in relief, likely crafted intentionally to resemble a human skull. It also has four strategically placed tie holes that would have allowed it to be securely fastened to a person’s face or mounted on a pole during ceremonial rituals.

Leading archaeologists theorize that the mask may have represented an ancient deified ancestor figure or primordial supernatural entity that held profound symbolic importance for the prehistoric population. Its finely worked features and ritualistic purpose mark it as a highly significant religious artifact from an era about which relatively little is still known.

“This is an extraordinary discovery that reveals new insights into the spiritual and symbolic traditions of some of the world’s earliest Neolithic cultures in this region,” commented Elie Borowski, curator of prehistoric antiquities at the Israel Museum. “The mask’s tomb context and skull-like aesthetic strongly suggest it had deeply sacred ceremonial purposes.”

In addition to unveiling the Hebron Hills mask, the Israel Museum announced it will display for the first time decorative wall tiles excavated from the Tomb of David site on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion. According to biblical tradition, the underground tomb is believed to be the burial place of King David.

The ornately patterned glazed tiles feature floral motifs characteristic of the Ottoman Imperial style and Iznik tile making. They will be part of a new "Interwoven Vessels" exhibition, bridging connections between ancient artifacts and Israeli art.

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