Some of our knowledge of ancient Egypt comes from Egyptian masks. Much about the ancient history of Egypt remains unknown. However, what we do know both mystifies and fascinates us.
Ancient Egyptian Masks
Perhaps the most well known type of Egyptian mask was made to cover the face of mummies. The discovery in 1922 of the tomb of Tutankhamun, or King Tut, with his mask of solid gold, captured the world's imagination. Tutankhamun died in 1343 B.C. When discovered, his resting place was almost in the same condition as when his coffin was entombed. Although the tomb had been robbed once, it was robbed very near the time that Tutankahmun died, making it easy to replace the lost objects.
Egyptian mummy masks had religious significance. Masks were intended to help the dead move from the mortal to the immortal world and to protect the physical body from harm. If the body happened to be destroyed, the soul would be restless for all eternity. In addition, death masks helped to form the soul's face in the afterlife. Both men and women were entitled to death masks.
Not everyone was entitled to a gold mask. Gold had magical characteristics to the Egyptians. More common mummy masks were made from cartonnage: layers of linen that have been combined with glue and plaster. Masks made out of cartonnage were sometimes painted with gold leaf.
Masks probably had other religious purposes in ancient Egypt as well. When priests and priestesses wore masks of their gods and goddesses, they assumed the deities' powers during important ceremonies. The Egyptian religion was shrouded in secrets and spells. Masks helped the priests to retain the awe of the common people.
Making funeral, death or mummy masks didn't stop with the fall of Egypt. Romans continued making funerary masks in the Egyptian tradition for centuries.
Cultural masks from every corner of the world express different meanings, depending on the context in which they are made.
African tribal masks are as varied as the tribes of Africa.