Biblical Archaeology Review 25:6, November/December 1999


Klein-Klein, Austria

Is this the image of a god? Does it represent a particular human being? Or is this mysterious seventh-century B.C. artifact merely an ornamental mask, depicting no one in particular? The protruding nose and slit mouth of the face suggest Celtic influence, as do the decorated hands, but what little else we know about this sheet-bronze set is based solely on its provenance: Klein-Klein, near Graz, Austria.

The Celts were known for both their bronzework and their skills with iron. The Celtic Early Iron Age (800–400 B.C.) produced such a rich and distinctive material culture in central Europe that the era became known as the Hallstatt period, named for the site in Austria with the most prehistoric finds. Klein-Klein contains about one hundred hill-tombs of the Hallstatt culture. These are thought to be royal graves because of the rich funeral gifts within the tombs. Perhaps this mask covered the face of a prince, while the hands protected him, warding off evil.

The face and hands display a typical Celtic technique: lines of decorative dots punched into sheets of bronze. Human heads are commonly found on a wide range of metalwork; according to scholars of Celtic art, the Celts believed that the head was the seat of the intellect and of the soul.

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