The face of an ancient god has been revealed by stunned archaeologists after a 32-year search.
The ritual mask, some 2,300 years old, is believed to represent Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility and madness in the ancient Greek religion.
Kaan Iren, who is directing the excavation of the lost city of Dascylium in what is now Turkey, says he believes the mask was created for a ritual to improve the quality of wine: “We believe that this is a mask of the Greek god Dionysos,” he said.
“It is probably a votive offering, offered during a ritual to the God for a better vintage.”
He added: “This is the first time that we have unearthed a mask which is nearly intact.”
Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, was believed to free his followers from self-consciousness and care through wine, music and dancing.
The mask is likely to have been worn by a priest who represented the god during a religious ceremony or dance.
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But these masks, which would have been very valuable, would often sacrificed by throwing them into a lake or marsh as an offering to the god.
The exact nature of this particular mask remains mysterious, with its burial place beneath the ancient city’s acropolis offering few clues.
“Unfortunately, it was found out of context, that is why many questions remain unanswered,” said Dr Iren.
“Nevertheless," he continued, "if it was really a mask of Dionysus, we may assume that the cult of this God existed in Daskyleion, although Daskyleion was not a Greek city before the Hellenistic Period.”
This Hellenistic or Greek influence likely came with the arrival of Alexander the Great, who took the city from the Persians.
“Daskyleion was a multicultural city,” said Dr Iren.
“Mysians, Phrygians, Lydians and Persians were living peacefully together in this city."
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He explained: “The peak time of the city was when it became an administrative centre of the Persian Empire in 546 BC.
“After the arrival of the Macedonians under the leadership of Alexander the Great in 334 BCE, the city started to be ‘Hellenized’.
“The archaeologists are unearthing a lot of interesting artifacts from those different ethnicities every season.”
The archaeologist also emphasised that they couldn’t absolutely guarantee who the mask depicted .
“The discovery is pretty new and we need to study it more before a final decision,” he said.
The excavations are directed by a team from Mugla SK University, with permission from Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and support from local authorities.
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