History of Masks - Ancient Use of Masks

Old Venetian Mask

Masks are objects that cover the face for variety of reasons. They are used for protection, disguise, entertainment or ritual practices and are made from various materials, depending of use. Earliest use of masks was for rituals and ceremonies, and the oldest found mask is from 7000 BC. Art of making masks could be older but because of the materials used for making them (leather and wood), they did not survive to this day. Oldest masks were of ritual purpose and could be found in many places of the world. They are generally similar in their overall appearance, but very different in style and way they are made and used.

In Africa, ritual masks are used in many different ways. In West Africa, they are used in ceremonies which purpose is to communicate with ancestral spirits. They are made out of wood, with great skill and such masks are used in ritual masquerades of Edo, Yoruba and Igbo cultures. Beside human faces, many African masks are made in the shapes of the animals. It is believed in some African tribes that they make possible to communicate with animals spirits of savannas and forests. One of the more common masks is an antelope. It is believed that an antelope have thought people agriculture or that it symbolizes a farmer. Some tribes make mask as symbols of different attributes. Mask with closed eyes symbolize tranquility while bulging forehead symbolizes wisdom. War masks are made to scare the enemy with big eyes, painted colors and anger of the carved face.

History of Masks

History of masks began some 9000 years ago. From that moment masks were made and used in thousands of different ways and became inseparable from our lives. Find out more about mask history.


Facts about Masks

There are so many different masks as there are cultures. And even more. Many different influences affected how masks are made and used. You can read some interesting facts about masks here.


Famous Masks

There are many popular masks around the world that can be categorized by different criteria. Masks can be used in rituals, ceremonies, hunting, feasts, wars, performances, theatres, fashion, sports, movies, as well as in medical, protective or occupational purposes. Masks can also be used as ornamentation. There are many masks around the world, find out more about them.


Carnaval Dance Mask

Inuit tribes of Northern America vary widely so their masks differ form each other in many ways. Pacific Northwest coastal groups have very skilled woodworkers that make complex masks made from wood, leather, bones and feathers, with movable parts and of great beauty. They are used in shamanic rituals that represent unity between men, their ancestors and animals that men hunt. They are also used in exorcising of evil spirits from the sick.

In Oceania, where the culture of the ancestral worship is very strong, masks are made to represent ancestors. Big masks, some six meter-high are used as a protection from evil spirits.

Ancient Aztecs, in Latin America, used masks to cover the faces of the dead. They made them from leather in the beginning, but later started making them from copper and gold.

Except for ritual purposes, from the ancient times masks were used in theatre. Oldest theatre masks are from Ancient Greece and masks used in traditional Japanese Noh drama. In time, masks are used in medieval theatre in mystery and miracle plays, during Renaissance as well as today.

Masks are also used for protection - for example: welding masks that protect eyes and face of the welder form bright light and flying sparks; gas mask that protects from dangerous gases; shield masks on helmets, from gladiators to modern police. There are also medical masks for oxygen supply, surgical masks that protect doctors and patients from infecting each other as well as many more.

Latest articles:
  • Halloween Masks

    Halloween, construction of All Hallows’ Evening, is a celebration on the eve on 31st October. It is believed that in this holiday days the souls of the dead roam the earth. Halloween masks and costumes should be frightening, spooky, scary and creepy. People believe it is important to honor the dead. Celts believed that this is the last night for the dead to have their vengeance before moving on so people wore masks and costumes not to be recognized, to scare away evil spirits and to prevent them from entering homes.

  • Scold's Bridle

    Scold’s bridle was iron muzzle with iron framework enclosing the head, usually of a woman, used for torture and humiliation. The humiliation process included a public display and punished people were led through town. Woman of the lower class who was characterized by unpleasant, scolding, aggression, gossiping, nagging or being a witch was punished by wearing the scold’s bridle.

  • Indian Masks

    Indian or Native American masks were made for ceremonies, decoration, war rituals, shaman rituals, rituals initiating young man into the tribe, in healing rituals, in entertainment, given as gifts and spiritual rituals. Native Americans believed that the person wearing a mask was taken over by the spirit that mask represents. Masks were decorated with paint, feathers, fur, straw, leather, or leaves. Trained dancers would wear the masks and perform legend stories.

Featured articles:
  • History of African Tribal Masks

    African culture used masks in rituals from the earliest days of human civilization. They are the most commonly used for purpose of communicating with spirits and bringing them in our plane. Learn more about African masks.

  • History of Egyptian Masks

    Ancient Egypt had a characteristic relation with masks. Because of ubiquity of religion and its mysteriousness masks were practically used as a method for transformation from mundane to the divine. Read more about history of Egyptian Masks.

  • History of Dance Masks

    Topeng dance is one of many applications of masks in the human life. It is a traditional dance drama that is played in Indonesia and tells a variety of stories. Read more about topeng dance history and facts.

  • History of Venetian Carnival Masks

    One of the things for which the Venice is famous is Carnival in Venice. One of the things Carnival in Venice is famous are masks. Learn more about history of Venetian carnival masks.