Prehistoric masks in Israel shed light on beginning of organized religion

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A special exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem showcases 12 Neolithic masks, which experts consider as the oldest proof of organized religion so far.

The 12 artifacts resemble skulls with teeth carved on many of them are made from limestone and are over 9,000 years old. Two of them were found during the 1970s and 1980s in the Judean Hills and the Judean Desert. They were so well-preserved that some of the hair pasted to them can still be seen.

The remaining 10 masks are a temporary loan from the private collection of the Steinhardt family from New York.

"They mark the end of personal cult, in the sense that worship was something practiced by each individual. Afterward, religion turn to a more public one that we can call ancestry cult," Dr. Debby Hershman, curator of prehistoric culture at the Israel Museum, told Xinhua.

Though the meaning behind these masks is still debated, Hershman claimed that they were a depiction of dead relatives, tribal chiefs or shamans.

"There was a debate as to whether they were hung on the walls, used as statues or tied to the face, but I have proven, using 3D techniques, that they were tied to the face and worn in rituals to evoke the dead person, pray for good weather or some healing favors, as they were seen as intermediaries with God," Hershman said.

The artifacts will be exhibited till Sept. 13, then the two owned by the museum will return to their regular spot in the prehistoric wing and the remaining 10 will be taken back to New York. Endi

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