East Asia

Bone mask or not?

side and rear views
side and rear views

Q:  I recently purchased this mask.  I believed it is carved from bone, possibly fossilized.  Sutures can be seen in the underside of the mask.  I do not know the type of bone or from what animal. Neither do I know its origin.  It measures 7.5″ long and 5.5″ wide. Feel free to ask any additional questions. Thanks for any info you are able to give me.  Herbert, 773

A:  Bones are an unusual medium for masks.More often we see masks of wood, papier mache, metal, ceramics, rubber, plastic, etc. Your carved bone is the right size for a mask. However, it is hard to understand how it could be worn. On the island of Timor in the South Pacific bone is often used for masks, but the ones I’ve seen aren’t marked this way. This piece appears to have been coated with brown tinted varnish to make it look old. That would suggest it is a decorative wall hanging. Comments are always welcome.


  • Chris

    Well, I don’t think it is a mask, nor a real authentic ethnographic object. I would rather say that it is a kind of hippies-alternative-style piece of art of some non-conventional artist. But I can easily be wrong… the bone seems to be without extra carving to take parts of it away – it seems to be a naturally formed bone of some animal.

  • Bob Ibold

    Thanks for your reply and comments. I will look at Timor art and see if I come up with something. I spoke with another gentleman and he suggests that it might be Dayak. Hopefully we will get additional comments. Regards, Herb

  • Nate

    Its clearly the skull of some animal. Without knowing sizing, it could be something like a horse. The second photo of the piece upside down clearly shows the perfectly round eye-socket cavities. Coming closer to the foreground, one can see the upper mouth cavity and at the very forefront, where there would have once sat some teeth (since removed).

    Ethnographic? Maybe.
    Aged and real Patina? Appears so…
    Used as a Mask? I think not.
    An expressive art form done by a skilled carver? Yes.

  • Chris

    Yes, Nate, evidently the engraved upper part of an animal skull, donkey or horse or similar. The internet is full of them…however, I can’t find one with that particular style and color.

  • Nate

    One would assume if you could determine which type of animal that may greatly limit the possibilities of where thing thing hails from. That said, the better route would be to research the style of art on it… I am near certain its Polynesian (Think… Hawaii, Tonga Island, Easter Island, maybe even Marshall Islands..although that’s a bit more Micronesian). I’d start by looking at Polynesian and/or Micronesian Tatoo designs and see if you can better pin-point a style.

  • Herb Danziger

    I’ve done some additional research on this piece. The closest designs I have been able to find belong to the Iban Dayek culture. If you Google Iban Art and look at images you can see similar curves in their work.

    Bob: Are you able to post the front on pic I sent you? I believe it will show the overall design better and may indicate why I thought it could be a mask.

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