Rare bronze mask of god Pan found at Golan dig

Larger than a human head, the mask of the half-human, half-goat god was discovered by chance at the Sussita archaeological site.

By | Mar. 15, 2015

Mask of Pan

Dr. Michael Eisenberg holding up the bronze mask of Pan. Photo by Michael Eisenberg

An extremely rare bronze mask of the ancient Greek deity Pan has been unearthed in an excavation at the Sussita archaeological site on the Golan Heights.

The mask, which dates back to the Hellenistic period, is larger than a human head and is made of bronze. It is extremely rare, because most ancient bronze statues and masks were melted down in later periods.

The mask was discovered two weeks ago by a University of Haifa archaeological team, headed by Dr. Michael Eisenberg. The team had returned to the site several weeks ago to examine several structures that had been found outside the city area last summer.

While using a metal detector to find coins, team member Dr. Alexander Yarmolin discovered a mass of earth, which, when cleared away, revealed the mask. The features of the ancient deity Pan were instantly recognizable — long, sharp ears and goat horns. Pan, the half-human, half-goat god of shepherds, also represented music and amusement.

The location of the mask, so far outside the ancient city, was unusual. The researchers believe that the building where it was found may have been a shrine on the main road to the city.

“The first thought that went through my mind was ‘Why here, outside the city?’” said Eisenberg. “After all, the mask is heavy and could never have just ended up there. We could see the remnants of a basalt structure near the place where we found the mask. The thickness of the walls, the method of construction and the high-quality masonry work hinted at a large building from the Roman period.”

Pan was worshipped not only in the city’s temples, but also on pasture-land and in nature, said Eisenberg. One of the best-known cultic spaces dedicated to Pan is in a cave in the ancient city of Panias, north of Sussita.

“Rituals to worship the gods of pasture and the fields, particularly Dionysus, were held fairly often outside the city,” Eisenberg explained. “They included ceremonies that involved drinking, sacrifice and ecstatic worship that sometimes involved nudity and sex. That may be one of the reasons why it was preferred that the participants hold the ceremony outside the city walls.”

After making enquiries at several museums across the globe, the researches have not found any mask similar to the one found at Sussita.

“Most of the existing masks resemble theatrical masks; sculpted of stone or clay and with cultic, symbolic and ornamental significance,” Eisenberg said. “And they are also tiny. Pan and satyrs appear occasionally as ornamentation on furniture, but all these things are small.

“None of the curators I contacted were aware of a bronze mask of the kind that we found in Sussita. The site cannot compete with the richness of of some of the cultural centers of ancient Rome, so a find of this sort here, of all places, is amazing.”

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