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A Brief History of Dolls

A Brief History of Dolls  Find more genealogy articles at FamilyTree.comChildren have been playing with dolls for centuries. It is a toy that is often given to girls, but is recently becoming more acceptable for boys to play with dolls, too. The way dolls look has changed over the years, and some people find them to be creepy!

One of the oldest known dolls was a Roman one that was made in Egypt somewhere between the 1st – 5th century AD. It was made of linen that had been filled with rags and papyrus. The overall shape looks like a person. This doll was a toy for children to play with.

A small glass bead that has been attached to the head indicates that the doll may have been female. The bead was a hair ornament. Very few of the dolls that were popular in the Roman period have survived because they were made of perishable materials.

A 4,000-year-old doll that was made of stone was found on the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria. It had a 3 centimeter head with “crudely carved eyes, nose and mouth and wavy hair”. Archaeologists believe this doll belonged to the girls who lived in the village. The doll was made for the purpose of being a toy, and not as a religious symbol.

The Smithsonian posted an article titled “The History of Creepy Dolls”. It includes some information given by Patricia Hogan, curator at The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. She said that by the end of the 19th century, parents stopped seeing their children as unfinished adults, and started seeing childhood as a time of innocence. People started making dolls that had cherubic faces.

Dolls have been used as an instructional resource. In the 18th and 19th century, girls learned to knit and sew by making clothing for their dolls. Little girls used their dolls to practice social customs, such as how to behave at a tea party or at a funeral. Dolls allowed girls to practice skills that they would be expected to have as adults.

In the second half of the 20th century, women were joining the workforce in growing numbers. People started making baby dolls for little girls. The idea was that this would teach girls that they were meant to stay home and take care of babies. Interestingly, at the same time, these girls saw their own mothers having careers.

The Smithsonian article discusses why some people are afraid of dolls. It has to do with the concept of the “uncanny valley”. When something, such as a doll, has features that look almost like human beings, but not quite, it causes some people to feel revulsion. It has been said that this response is an evolutionary tendency that causes us to instinctively avoid anyone who looks sick or unhealthy.

Image by stanze on Flickr.

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