Masks Unmasked: tracing traditions of mask wearing in the hunter-gatherer communities of Early Prehistoric Europe (Ben Elliott).

Masks Unmasked: tracing traditions of mask wearing in the hunter-gatherer communities of Early Prehistoric Europe (Ben Elliott).

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The Masks Unmasked project, which began in October 2019, looks to critically examine the evidence for mask wearing within the hunter-gatherer communities who established themselves across Europe during the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods. Previous scholars have argued that masks played a role in the very earliest modern human societies to live in Europe, based on depictions of masked individuals within Upper Palaeolithic art, mortuary practices that involve covering or obscuring the face of the deceased, and animal crania that appear to have been modified in ways that allow them to be worn on the head. However, the inherent ambiguity of the evidence these arguments draw from has meant that the significance of masks for understanding conceptions of personhood and ontology within Early Prehistoric societies has been overlooked. Masks Unmasked aims to critically review the mooted evidence for masks in relation to the wealth of ethnographic data concerning masks gathered from societies across the world. In doing so, it seeks to develop an understanding of the different roles that masks and masking played in Europe’s hunter-gatherer past. This paper will present a selection of findings from this study, focussing on the use of clay and amber in the mid Holocene of the Eastern Baltic.

 

This University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute research seminar introduces our new lecturer, Dr Benjamin Elliott.

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