Gold mask on display in the Museo del Oro, Bogotá, Colombia.  (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Golden Godheads of Human Death Rites

Masks are well ingrained in the social zeitgeist and while their use in ancient rituals and ceremonies across the ancient world is well documented, it is generally their protective applications in hunting and sports and their function in ritual practices that is discussed. However, among the tens of thousands of masks collected by archaeologists there are certain ceremonial examples that were designed never to be worn and with many of their discoveries being surrounded by controversy, each one of them stands as a king among all ancient artifacts.

The 16th-century BC mask discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 at Mycenae, Greece, was called the ‘Mask of Agamemnon’. National Archaeological Museum, Athens. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mask of Agamemnon

This golden funerary mask was discovered in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann at the ancient Greek site of Mycenae and is currently displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. It was created from a single thick sheet of gold that had been heated before being hammered against a wooden background, then carefully detailed with a sharp tool of some sort. Schliemann was so struck by his discovery that he notified King George of Greece that he had: “gazed upon the face of Agamemnon” a most distinguished hero of Greek Mythology whose adventures were narrated in the Iliad of Homer, and Schliemann even named his son after the legendary king.

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Ancient Origins Quotations