Intriguing Finds , July 2009

Calling all theater buffs! Italian archaeologists have announced this month that a collection of 15 life-size masks surrounded by mystery have been rediscovered in Pompeii after they were forgotten for more than two centuries. Highlighting a style comparable to ancient Roman drama, the masks are fashioned from plaster with each one possessing a considerable amount of weight.

Ancient Theater Masks Uncovered in Pompeii

In 1749, excavations conducted by the word of King Charles of Bourbon led to the discovery of the masks in Pompeii and had been stored in the Royal Palace of Portici , alongside an assortment of other artifacts. No one returned to dig deeper as to the origin or history behind the masks. They were simply forgotten. Even the location of where they were found is no longer known. According to the archeologist who rediscovered the masks, 18th century dig journals only lightly touch upon the excavation of the artifacts.  

It is thought that the size of the masks suggest that they might have been stored in the workshop of an artisan, especially since they were all uncovered in the same location. Intricate details of the handiwork reveal more clues, as well as the shut position of the mouth, which indicates that the masks were used for models that were later turned into lighter productions that actor actually wore in plays.

Two of the masks display letters in the space used for the mouth. While one is unrecognizable, the other reads ‘Buco,’ which was used to reference a character by the name of Buccus, who appeared in many early theater acts. Additional research is needed for archeologists to learn the true meaning and use of the masks. The director of Naples Archaeological Museum added that there is much to uncover as one mask bears an inscription consisting of cryptic words. If you are interested in catching sight of these unique finds, the masks will be on display at the Naples Archaeological Museum until the end of August 2009.

A Cache of Tombs in Macedonia

Dating back to the 5th century BC, archeologists have uncovered a collection of tombs (17 in total) in the southwestern part of Macedonia , Ohrid. Upon opening one of the tombs, the remains of a 15-year-old girl were discovered wearing a funeral mask made out of gold. The mask is causing quite a stir because it possesses thin gold eye-covers. A gold plate was also used for the mouth. On her chest, she wore a plaque with an engraved sun.

A find such as this in the Balkans is considered rare. While several burial remains have produced gold plates in the Aegean region, the distinct combination found in one grave has yet to be discovered until now. Other artifacts and treasures uncovered in the graves included various pieces of jewelry, golden chains, and objects fashioned from amber.