9,000-Year-Old Mask at Auction Used for Spiritual Rituals

A mask found in what was once an ancient Judean desert will be up for auction in a few weeks, with officials speculating that it could fetch a price much higher than current estimates.

The 9,000-year-old Neolithic limestone mask will be up for auction at Christie's in New York in June and is expected to bring in around $700,000, according to a statement the auction house released Wednesday.

The mask was described by Christie's as "fashioned to resemble a human skull, oval in form with thick walls, the reverse concave, the cut-out eyes with narrow ridges extending up from their outer corners over the temples."

There were also small holes that were made along the edge of the mask suggesting that hair might have been added, or they might have been used to tie the mask to the face of a person or some other structure, according to Christie's.

The rare Neolithic limestone mask is one of only a few masks to be found intact dating from this time period, according to Christie's.

"Only very few of these masks are known," Molly Morse Limmer, head of Christie's Antiquities department in New York, told Reuters. "All were found in the Judean desert, all were carved of limestone, and all represent the human skull."

The Judean desert's extreme dry conditions helped in preserving the mask over the millennia. The mask's actual use is still a mystery, but Limmer said that it originated during the time with civilizations were first forming.

"No doubt they represent one of the earliest human attempts to connect with the spiritual world," Limmer said. "Given the skeletal representation, it would be logical that they relate to death rituals or ancestor worship."

The 9-inch mask, which is being sold by a private New York collector, will be part of Christie's antiquities sale in New York on June 8 which is expected to bring in $8 million.

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