- Published: 30 June 2008
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Betty Frost, age 8, of Bemidji, Minn., for her question:
WHEN WAS THE FIRST DOLL MADE?
Doll like figures found in ancient Egyptian tombs date back to about 2000 B.C. Called paddle dolls because they were carved from a flat piece of wood shaped like a paddle, the figures were painted with patterns to look like clothes and they had strings of clay beads to represent hair or a headdress.
Although these first dolls looked like playthings, they definitely were not. The paddle dolls were buried with the dead to provide them with servants in the next world, so they served as religious figures rather than toys.
Doll like figures were also found in Greek and Roman graves dating from the 300s to the 200s B.C. These had jointed,. movable arms and legs. Some were elegant and carved from bone or ivory, although most were made of wood or clay. Scholars aren't sure if these figure were religious objects or toys.
But scholars do know that small girls in ancient Greece did indeed play with dolls until shortly before marriage. They then left their dolls on the altar of Artemis, the goddess of childbirth, to show they had outgrown childish things.
Historians are unable to tell us about the toys during the Middle Ages, which ran from the A.D. 400s to the 1500s. We aren't sure if children then played with dolls.
But the number of dolls increased with the Renaissance, the period of great cultural and intellectual activity that spread throughout most of Europe from the 1400s to the 1600s.
The toy industry developed in Germany during the 1600s, and the doll became an important item. Woodcarvers, who usually turned out chairs and other household items, turned out dolls as a sideline.
Nearly all surviving dolls of the 1600s are wooden figures of women. Many have carefully carved faces full of personality.
By the 1700s, dolls became cruder. Not too many were hand carved. Most were shaped on lathes and their limbs were little more than sticks. Clothes was either painted or pasted right on the bodies.
Dramatic changes came for dolls during the 1800s. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, children had been regarded as small adults. They had been expected to behave as much like grown ups as possible. Even their clothes copied adult styles.
But then adults came to consider play important to children's development and so provided them with more dolls and other toys.
During the late 1800s, five kinds of dolls were popular: wooden dolls, cloth dolls, papier mache dolls, wax dolls and china dolls.
French manufacturers dominated the doll industry during the 1860s and 1870s, with Germany offering great competition by the 1880s. The Germans first came up with "sleeping eye" dolls and those who could say "Mama."