Masks have been designed in innumerable varieties, from the simplest of crude “False Faces” held by a handle to complete head coverings with ingenious movable parts and hidden faces. Among the materials used are wood, different metals, shells, fibers, ivory, clay, horns, stones, feathers, leather, fur, paper, cloth, and cornhusks.
With few exceptions, the morphological elements of masks derive from natural forms. Masks with human features are classified as anthropomorphic and those with animal characteristics as theomorphic. They usually represent supernatural beings, ancestors, and fanciful or imagined figures, and can also be portraits.
The oldest masks that have been discovered are 9,000 years old, being held by the Musée “Bible et Terre Sainte” (Paris), and the Israel Museum. Most probably the practice of wearing masks is much older the earliest known anthropomorphic artwork is circa 30,000 — 40,000 years old but in so far as it involved the use of war-paint, leather, vegetative material or wooden masks, the masks probably have not been preserved.
Nothing can be said with certainty about why when and how humankind started to use masks. Yet it can be assumed that, from time immemorial, human beings started using these masks out of their respect to or their fear of miraculous souls as well as out of a folk belief to communicate with supernatural powers.
The function of the masks may be magical or religious; they may appear in rites of passage or as a make-up for a form of theatre. Equally masks may disguise a penitent or preside over important ceremonies; they may help