Dolls are figures of human beings or animals. They have long been used as children’s toys, but there is evidence that they have also been used throughout history in both magic and religious rituals.
Archaeologists have uncovered dolls in their most primitive form, made from wood, bones, ivory, clay, stones, or wax. The oldest known dolls are wooden paddle dolls discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs that date to 2000 B.C. It is not clear if those dolls were used as toys or had another purpose. Dolls from ancient Greece dating to 200 B.C. and supporting documents from around 100 B.C. indicated those dolls were used as children’s toys. A custom among both Greek and Roman women was giving their dolls to goddesses when they married. Roman made dolls created from a variety of mediums including clay, wood, ivory, and rags, and dressed in the latest Roman fashions of the day were found in children’s graves.
African dolls were not used for toys, but to help educate people. They were also regarded as messengers of gods.
During 8000 to 200 B.C. the Japanese Jōmon culture used dolls for toys, but also during religious ceremonies and for protection.
Many cultures used effigy dolls as a way of performing magic. They might, for example use puppets or nkisi or bocio (from Western and Central Africa) to represent people on which spells were cast. More familiar to most are voodoo dolls, which are said have their basis in African-American Hoodoo magic. Many dolls, such as the Northern European kitchen witch, were thought to bring good luck.
The process of manufacturing dolls has changed over the years. While dolls in early days might have been made with fabric, stones, bones, or corn husks—and with dried apples for heads—the beginning of the industrial era brought change. Doll makers switched to porcelain for heads, and when plastic became available in the 20th century, they too, began to use it as a major resource for manufacturing dolls. The first celebrity dolls were made out of paper in the 20th century. The first ones represented famous ballerinas, but the most successful, early celebrity dolls were paper dolls representing child actress Shirley Temple.
Today, dolls are made of various materials and used for a variety of purposes. Most are manufactured in factories rather than handmade. They are favorite playthings, used for decoration and artwork and collected. To some children, their favorite doll is their treasured and cherished possession. Dolls are often passed down through generations as family heirlooms.
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