Blood, sweat and plaster casts: Reviewing the history, composition, and scientific value of the Raymond A. Dart Collection of African Life and Death Masks

T. M. R. Houlton (Lead / Corresponding author), B. K. Billings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This paper addresses the history, composition and scientific value of one of the most comprehensive facemask collections in Africa, the Raymond A. Dart Collection of African Life and Death Masks. Housed within the School of Anatomical Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), it comprises 1110 masks (397 life, 487 death, 226 unknown). Life masks represent populations throughout Africa; death masks predominately southern Africa. Males preponderate by 75%. Recorded ages are error prone, but suggest most life masks are those of <35 year-olds, death masks of 36+ year-olds. A total of 241 masks have associated skeletons, 209 presenting a complete skull. Life masks date between 1927 and c.1980s, death masks 1933 and 1963. This historical collection presents uncanny associations with outmoded typological and evolutionary theories. Once perceived an essential scientific resource, performed craniofacial superimpositions identify the nose as the only stable feature maintained, with the remaining face best preserved in young individuals with minimal body fat. The facemask collection is most viable for teaching and research within the history of science, specifically physical anthropology, and presents some value to craniofacial identification. Future research will have to be conducted with appropriate ethical considerations to science and medicine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-377
Number of pages16
JournalHOMO
Volume68
Issue number5
Early online date14 Sep 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

Keywords

  • History of Physical Anthropology
  • Raymond A. Dart Collection of African Life and Death Masks
  • Typology masks

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