Limestone mask

An ancient limestone mask from the Judean desert that is estimated to be 9,000 years old. (Christie's / May 23, 2012)

An ancient limestone mask thought to be 9,000 years old will go on sale at a Christie's auction in June. The rare piece, from the Middle East, represents what is believed to be the oldest item ever offered by the auction house.

The mask dates from the Neolithic period, around the seventh millennium B.C., according to Christie's. The piece is 9 inches long and comes from the Judean desert in Israel, which stretches east from Jerusalem to the Jordan River.

The auction house said it remains unclear what the mask was originally used for. It was probably not practical for wearing because of the weight of the limestone, and so might have been used for decoration or as a death mask.

Oval in shape, the mask features holes for the eyes and nose. The open mouth features a set of carved teeth.

Christie's estimates that the mask could sell for as much as $600,000. It is being sold by an unnamed private collector from New York. The auction is set to take place June 8.

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