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A Judean Desert Limestone Mask
Pre-pottery Neolithic; circa 7th millennium BC
Size: 22.8 centimetres (9 inches) long
Estimated Price: £400,000-600,000

A 9,000-year-old limestone mask from the Judean desert is among the earliest sculptural types to survive from the ancient Near East, circa 7th millennium BC. The intriguing design of this Neolithic limestone mask evokes a skull, although the function of the object remains a mystery. Too heavy to wear, the mask is human-sized, with holes for the eye sockets, a small nose portraying only the nasal bones, and an open, lipless mouth with teeth.

Given the skeletal representation, experts believe that masks like this one were related to death rituals or ancestor worship among the cultures of ancient Judea in the Neolithic period. Small drill holes along the perimeter suggest that hair might have been affixed, or they might have been used to secure the mask over the face of a deceased person or perhaps to a wall, pillar or statue.

It was in the 7th millennium BC that complex societies were first evolving, so masks such as the present example, sculpted from non-perishable materials like limestone, can be considered one of the earliest attempts to connect with the spiritual world.

Christie’s New York Sale of Antiquities will take place on June 8, 2012. For further information, please visit http://www.christies.com.

First published in the Adbuzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on June 3, 2012.