Bronze Mask of Pan from Hippos-Sussita

From a University of Haifa press release:

A large bronze mask of the god Pan, the only of its kind, was uncovered at the University of Haifa’s excavation at Hippos-Sussita National Park. According to Dr. Michael Eisenberg, bronze masks of this size are extremely rare and usually do not depict Pan or any of the other Greek or Roman mythological images. “Most of the known bronze masks from the Hellenistic and Roman periods are minature”.

It seems that in recent years, the mysteries of Hippos-Sussita have been revealing their secrets in an extraordinary way: first, a sculpture of Hercules was exposed by the winter rains of 2011, then, two years later, a basalt tombstone with a sculpture of the deceased’s bust was uncovered. Now there is a new surprise: the only finding of a bronze mask of unnatural size, in the form of the god Pan/Faunus.

Excavations at Hippos-Sussita are usually conducted in the summer. However, a series of intriguing structures on the ridge of the city, where the ancient road passed, led to a one-day dig in the winter. The dig focused on a basalt structure which the researchers assumed was a type of armoured hangar for the city’s projectile machines. The finding of a ballista ball made of limestone, a different material from the basalt that was customarily used at Hippos-Sussita to make balista balls, made them realize that it was an enemy’s projectile.

In light of this interesting find the researchers decided to search the structure for coins to help them date the the balls. It didn’t take long for the metal detector, operated by the capable hands of Dr. Alexander Iermolin, head of the conservation laboratory at the Institute of Archaeology at the University, to start beeping frantically. The archialogosts were not yet aware of what was in store for them: “After a few minutes we pulled out a big brown lump and realized it was a mask. We cleaned it, and started to make out the details: The first hints that helped us recognize it were the small horns on top of its head, slightly hidden by a forelock,” said Dr. Eisenberg.

Horns like the ones on the mask are usually associated with Pan, the half-man half-goat god of the shepherds, music and pleasure. A more thorough cleaning in the lab, revealed strands of a goat beard, long pointed ears, and other characteristics that led Dr. Eisenberg to identify the mask as depicting a Pan/Faunus/Satyr. “The first thought that crossed my mind was, ‘Why here, beyond the city limits?’ After all, the mask is so heavy it could not have just rolled away. The mask was found nearby the remains of a basalt structure with thick walls and very solid masonry work, which suggested a large structure from the Roman period. A Pan altar on the main road to the city, beyond its limits, is quite likely. After all, Pan was worshipped not only in the city temples but also in caves and in nature. The ancient city of Paneas, north of Hippos-Sussita, had one of the most famous worshipping compounds to the god Pan inside a cave. Because they included drinking, sacrificing and ecstatic worship that sometimes included nudity and sex, rituals for rustic gods were often held outside of the city”, Dr. Eisenberg explained.

Now the archeologists have begun to uncover the basalt structure, in the hopes of finding more clues to its purpose. They assume that it was used for defensive purposes “Perhaps in a later period, during the Pax Romana, when the city fortifications were not required, the building turned into a place of worship to the god of shepherds, and maybe what we have here is a magnificent fountain-head or burial offerings of a nearby mausoleum,” Dr. Eisenberg suggests.
As mentioned, the researchers are unfamiliar with any similar bronze mask from the Roman or Hellenistic era of Pan or a Satyr. “Most of the masks are usually similar in size to theater masks, are made of stone or terracotta and are of ritual, apotropaic, decorative or symbolic significance. I contacted the curators of some of the world’s greatest museums, and even they said that they were not familiar with the type of bronze mask that we found at Hippos. Hippos-Sussita cannot compete in wealth with the ancient cultural centers of the Roman Empire and as such, a finding of this kind here, of all places, is amazing,” concluded Dr. Eisenberg.

The YNet coverage adds some details (inter alia):

The researchers, who were looking for coins with the help of a metal detector, discovered a huge metal block. “We dug out a huge brown block from the ground,” said Dr. Alexander Lermolin the director of the conservation laboratory at the University of Haifa’s Institute of Archealogy.

“We gently cleaned it from the dirt and began to realize the details: Small horns at the head of the mask hidden between forelocks of hair were the first hints in identifying the mask,” said Dr. Lermolin.

“The horns immediately pointed to the fact that it was (a mask of) Pan, the god of goats, who is half man and half goat, and he also represents music and entertainment. After a thorough cleaning in the lab, they clearly identified the size of the goat, the long and pointed ears and other characteristics that led to an almost certain identification,” said Dr. Lermolin.

The thought that there was a main altar along the main road to the city is definitely appealing,” Dr. Eisenberg summarizes.

“Maybe in a later period, when the city’s fortifications were no longer needed, the designated purpose of the building changed and became a ceremonial site for the goat god. Or maybe we have before us a magnificent fountain head or burial sacrifice,” said Dr. Eisenberg.

The Ynet coverage also includes a nice video that’s worth a look as well as a photo of one of Dr. Eisenberg’s co-researchers holding the mask in question:


Dr Michael Eisenberg photo via Ynet

What seems really interesting is that the Pan is beardless (so young) and seems to be employing the terrifying voice he was known for. I can’t really find any indication of/reason for a cult centre in the area.

Other coverage worth checking out:

… and the dig’s webpage might be worth perusing too, although it doesn’t seem to have any more details on this find.

Theatre Masks from Ilisu?

From Hurriyet:

The ongoing excavation works organized by Mardin Museum at Ilısu Dam have revealed very unique pieces, such as two theater play masks from the Roman period.

“The artifacts belong to Roman times. After the restoration is completed they will be exhibited in Mardin Museum … The excavation works held are still continuing.” Mardin Culture and Tourism Manager Davut Beliktay said.

“During ancient times there were no theater stages near Ilısu, so we think these masks came from travelling theater communities coming to Ilısu in ancient times,” he added. The artifacts are thought to come from 200-300 A.D.

“One of the masks is bronze and the other one is made from iron,” Beliktay said, adding that the restoration work on them was currently being conducted at Mardin Museum.

The masks are very rarely found in Turkey, he said. Many artifacts have been revealed during the excavations but these masks are perhaps the most important finds, as there are very few of them in Turkey, Beliktay added.

… and again I’m going to break with my usual practice and actually show the photo that accompanies the article:

via Hurriyet

I think some more thinking needs to be going on with regards to this one. It’s pretty easy to see that the masks do not have any opening around the mouths and so it seems likely that they weren’t actually used in a performance. More likely, these are examples of masks which were included as offerings in tombs (cf this example from the British Museum) …