Mask Metamorphosis

Digs & Discoveries September/October 2016

(Courtesy Michael Eisenberg)

Just as the details of a spectacular first- to third-century A.D. bronze mask have emerged after more than a year of conservation, so has the true nature of a newly excavated area of the important ancient city of Hippos-Sussita in Israel begun to take shape. The mask is almost 12 inches tall and 11 inches wide, and weighs more than 11 pounds. Because the artifact is unique—it is the only large bronze mask depicting the wild, rustic demigod Pan to have been found in Israel—conservators decided to clean half by hand, then assess it before continuing with the rest.

More recently, the Hippos-Sussita team, led by Michael Eisenberg of the University of Haifa, has uncovered a large basalt propylaeum, or gateway, which he can now connect with the tower in which the mask was found. “At first the mask seemed like it was almost a random find, having been discovered some 60 feet away from the complex we were digging in,” says Eisenberg, “but now I am starting to realize that it’s connected to that area and supports one of the leading assumptions we have—that we are actually excavating a sanctuary dedicated to the god Dionysus or to Pan, who was part of his retinue.”