Rain got you down? Don’t want to leave the house to hear the Megillah again at shul? Well, in honor of Purim, the Israel Antiquities Authority is presenting a new virtual exhibition on its Website of masks and rattles which were discovered in archaeological excavations throughout the country.

Appearing in the exhibition are various masks that portray humans and animals, the oldest of which is from the Stone Age and dates to c. 6500 BCE.
Many ceremonial masks were used for ritual purposes such as rainmaking, curing disease and exorcising spirits and demons. Oftentimes such masks were in the image of deities or demons.

The use of rattles during the reading of the scroll is a symbolic expression of the extermination of the Amalekites, the first people whom the Israelites fought when they were wandering in the desert. According to tradition, the wicked Haman was a descendant of the Amalekites.

Clay rattles that contain small stones or other materials for making noise were found in archaeological excavations around the country. The rattles occur in a variety of shapes, some adorned with a painted or engraved decoration, but all of them produce the same noise that is characteristic of a rattle.

The majority of the rattles were found in a cultic context or inside tombs and therefore there are those who believe that they were primarily used for ritual purposes. The frequency with which rattles occur in excavations throughout the country is explained by the fact that they are small objects which were relatively simple to manufacture and were used by the general population.

There is also the assertion that the clay rattle was a very important musical instrument in the religious services of the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah during the First Temple period.