The discovery of terracotta “masks” at the site of Jiyeh in Lebanon by an archaeological mission of the UW has been noticed by international popular science media such as “Live Science”. Previously, the discovery was published in the scientific journal “Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie”.
The article about the “masks” in the “Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie” was written by Dr. Mariusz Gwiazda from the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw. According to the archaeologist, the „masks” – or to be precise, protomes – were made in the Persian period, but they must have been in use for decades, because they were found together with objects up to a couple of hundred years younger.
They were found in pieces that proved to have belonged to four separate “masks”. In the hands of a skilled conservator two of them could be reconstructed almost in full. The largest one is 24 cm high and 15 cm wide. The faces pictured on the protomes were female. According to Dr. Gwiazda, the headdress worn by one of them is typical for representations of Greek women in that period, while a Wadjat sign of Egyptian origin is featured on the bust of another protome. Such a cultural mix is typical of the local Phoenician culture. The local provenance of the “masks” is corroborated by Dr. Urszula Wicenciak, a ceramologist with the PCMA, who analyzed the clay the objects were made from and concluded that it is typical for the pottery production of Sidon and Tyre, south of Jiyeh.
Who was depicted on these clay sculptures? Dr. Gwiazda argues that they were not portraits of any particular women but rather the representations of deities. The shape of the “masks” indicates that they may have been hung on walls. They were discovered in a waste dump together with burnt animal bones, plant remains and potsherds of table vessels used for serving food (all of them in themselves fascinating objects of study for specialists working with the mission). As Dr. Gwiazda points out, all this waste may represent the leftovers from some kind of a cultic feast. But – as is often the case in archaeology, when solid proof is not available – such conclusions must remain within the sphere of conjecture.
The Polish archaeological mission working in Lebanon is a joint project between the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw and the Lebanese General Directorate of Antiquities. It is headed by Prof. Tomasz Waliszewski, the Director of the PCMA. The main object of its research are the sites of Jiyeh and Chhim, between Beirut and Sidon.