Based on what they found in the excavation, the researchers estimate that the original gateway was about 20 feet (6 meters) tall, and that the entire building was likely even taller. They've also dated the building to the time of the Roman emperor Hadrian, who reigned from A.D. 117 to A.D. 138.
Eisenberg hypothesized that the site, which was found outside of the city limits, was possibly a compound for the god Pan, and that it had been built just in front of the entrance to Hippos.
"The mask, and now the gate in which it was embedded, are continuing to fire our imaginations," Eisenberg said. "The worship of Pan sometimes included ceremonies involving drinking, sacrifices and ecstatic rituals, including nudity and sex. This worship usually took place outside the city walls, in caves and other natural settings."
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Hippos, also called Sussita, overlooks the Sea of Galilee and was established in the third century B.C. and destroyed by an earthquake in the year A.D. 749. Hippos is also of historic significance in Christianity, because it once formed what is known as the "Decapolis" - an area along the Jordan River described in the New Testament that, together with other ancient cities along the Jordan River, was the land in which Jesus performed miracles.
As more discoveries are made in future excavations, the researchers said that newly unearthed material will continue to shed light on the ancient city's history.
"What kind of worship of Pan or his fellow Dionysus, the god of wine, took place here in Hippos?" Eisenberg said. "To answer that question, we will have to keep on digging."