Phoenician, 6th century BC
From Tharros, Sardinia
A device for scaring evil spirits
This mask was found in a tomb and was designed to frighten away evil spirits. The dark red clay from which it is made is not local and the style suggests that it may have been imported from Carthage, the most important Phoenician colony in the western Mediterranean.
Over seventy tombs were excavated in the cemetery at Tharros between 1853 and 1855. Burial customs followed the fashions of Carthage. The body was provided with amulets and laid on its back with feet towards the door, which faced east. Written spells and gifts such as terracotta figures invoked the god's protection.
From around 1000 BC Canaanite territory was restricted to the northern Levant coast. This area is known as Phoenicia, from the Greek word for purple (phoinix), since the extraction of purple dye from murex shells and the production of purple-colured fabrics was one of the major industries of the region. The Phoenicians naturally turned to the sea to provide the basis of their economy, turning their small natural harbours into major ports.
Phoenician contacts with Sardinia can be traced back to around 1000 BC, but it was not until the eighth century BC that permanent colonies were established on the island. One of the most important was Tharros. It remained a major trading centre through the Roman period.
R.D. Barnett and C. Mendleson (eds), Tharros: a catalogue of materi (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)