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Israel unveils rare and ancient mask

Israeli archeologist Ronit Lupu holds a rare stone mask dating to the Neolithic period which was found at the Pnei Hever region of southern Hebron mount, in this picture taken on November 28, 2018
Israeli archeologist Ronit Lupu holds a rare stone mask dating to the Neolithic period which was found at the Pnei Hever region of southern Hebron mount, in this picture taken on November 28, 2018 Israeli archeologist Ronit Lupu holds a rare stone mask dating to the Neolithic period which was found at the Pnei Hever region of southern Hebron mount, in this picture taken on November 28, 2018 AFP
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Jérusalem (AFP)

The Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday unveiled what it said was a rare 9,000-year-old stone mask linked to the beginnings of agricultural society.

The pink and yellow sandstone object was discovered in a field at the Jewish settlement of Pnei Hever, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said the IAA.

The artefact was handed in to authorities in early 2018.

"The mask is very naturalistic in the way it was made," said IAA archaeologist Ronit Lupu. "You can see the cheekbones, you can see a perfect nose."

"It's a rare mask," she told AFP. "The last one that we know was found 35 years ago. It's an amazing find, archaeologically speaking."

The West Bank is a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Disputes over ownership of artefacts discovered there are just part of the long-running conflict with the Palestinians over the land.

The IAA placed the mask at a pivotal period in Neolithic culture.

"Stone masks are linked to the agricultural revolution," the authority said in a statement.

"The transition from an economy based on hunting and gathering to ancient agriculture and domestication of plants and animals was accompanied by a change in social structure and a sharp increase in ritual-religious activities."

Among such activities, it said, was ancestor worship.

"It was part of the ritual and retention of family heritage that was accepted at the time," the statement said.

"Stone masks, such as the one from Pnei Hever, are similar in size to the human face, which is why scholars tend to connect them with such worship."

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