Middle East

World's oldest masks go on display in Jerusalem

A 9,000 year-old mask is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on 10 March 2014. Image copyright AP
Image caption The 9,000-year-old stone masks appear to have been modelled on skulls

A collection of the world's oldest masks, dating back to the dawn of civilisation, have gone on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The 9,000-year-old stone masks are thought to have been made to resemble the spirits of dead ancestors.

They have round holes for eyes, tiny noses and prominent displays of teeth.

Experts say they were made in the hills and deserts near Jerusalem and offer a rare glimpse of some of civilisation's first communal rituals.

Image copyright AP

They are thought to have made at a critical turning point that saw the birth of agriculture and the abandonment of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum, said all of the masks were discovered at locations close to Jerusalem.

"What makes them remarkable is that they are all from within about a 20-mile (32km) radius not far from Jerusalem actually where the Judean hills meet the Judean desert."

Image copyright AP

The exhibition's curator, Debby Hershman, said the masks dated back to the creators of civilisation.

"They were made in the pre-pottery Neolithic period by the people that were living here, that were the first farmers, first people that actually lived in villages in large groups and they were the creators of civilisation."

Image copyright AP

Most of the masks have been in the hands of private collectors.

It took 10 years of carbon-14 testing for experts to determine the authenticity and origin of the collection, the Associated Press news agency reports.

The Face to Face exhibition is open at the Israel Museum from March to September.