Girnavaz (Turquie): Archaeologists discover ancient theater masks

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A Stone Age toy car -  Photo credit:  the Museum of Mardin in Ilisu Dam 

The chance finding of a Stone Age toy car has led archaeologists in Turkey to even more finds. While excavating near the village of Girnavaz, located in the southeastern Turkish province of Mardin, archaeologists discovered several bronze and iron masks- the first of their kind to be found in Turkey.

The Roman period masks appear to have belonged to a traveling theater group that came to the area two thousand years ago. The strong Roman influence seen in the masks design has led archaeologists to believe that the actors themselves came to the province from the Rome. It is unclear how or why the masks would have been left behind.

"It is revealed that this historical artifact from Roman Empire have been brought to Mardin by the traveling theatre [groups] as there has been no theatre here at that time,” Mardin Culture and Tourism Director Davut Beliktay explained at a press conference about the find. “This traveling theatre is presumed to come from west to east."


Bronze and iron theater masks recently discovered in Turkey - Photo credit:  the Museum of Mardin in Ilisu Dam 

The masks are just a few of many artifacts to be unearthed at the Girnavaz dig site however, because they are the first and only masks of this type to be discovered in Turkey, they are being called among the more significant of all the artifacts found. That is not to say that the other finds haven’t been just as exciting or noteworthy. The Stone Age toy that led to these further discoveries has been called the world’s earliest toy car. Five and six thousand year old whistles, still in working condition, have also been found at the site.

The dig is being carried out by archaeologists from the Museum of Mardin in Ilisu Dam. After the discovery of the masks the artifacts were brought back to a laboratory at the museum for restoration and research.

“After the restoration is completed they will be exhibited in Mardin Museum,” Beliktay said at the same press conference. “We are very glad that Turkey's first masks have been found in Mardin. Mardin has a very rich history. Our teams continue to the excavation works.”

Mardin has over seven thousand years of history. It is one of the oldest settled areas of Mesopotamia. The capital of the province, and home to the Mardin Museum, is the city of Mardin. The city is filled with ancient churches and mosques which give voice to the diverse groups of people that have called this area home over the centuries. So far the museum has not released a date when they think the masks will be available for public viewing.