A doll is a model of a human being. Dolls have been around since the dawn of human civilization, and have been fashioned from a vast array of materials, ranging from stone, clay, wood, bone, cloth and paper, to porcelain, china, rubber and plastic.
While dolls have traditionally been toys for children, they are also collected by adults, for their nostalgic value, beauty, historical importance or financial value. In ancient times, dolls were used as representations of a deity, and played a central role in religious ceremonies and rituals. Lifelike or anatomically correct dolls are used by health professionals, medical schools and social workers to train doctors and nurses in various health procedures or investigate cases of sexual abuse of children. Artists sometimes use jointed wooden mannequins in drawing the human figure. Action figures representing superheroes and their predecessors, action dolls, are particularly popular among boys.
Archaeological evidence places dolls as foremost candidate for oldest known toy, having been found in Egyptian tombs which date to as early as 2000 BCE. In Egypt, as well as Greece and Rome, it was common to find them in the graves of children. Most were made of wood, although pottery dolls were buried with children from wealthier families. Dolls with movable limbs and removable clothing date back to 200 BCE.
Roman doll-makers continued to use technology developed by the Egyptians and Greeks, but in line with the artistic sensibilities of their culture, they were constantly trying to make dolls more elegant and beautiful. One doll, found near Prati in Rome, was made of ivory and lay beside her owner who had died at the age of eighteen. Next to the doll was a small box, also made of ivory, containing tiny combs and a silver mirror. The doll had rings on her fingers and held a tiny key, which unlocked the box. Like children today, the younger members of Roman civilization would have dressed and undressed their dolls, and decorated their hair and fingers according to the latest fashions.
Europe later became the center of dollmaking. Very popular was the undressed Peg wooden doll from Val Gardena. In the United States, dollmaking became an industry in the 1860s, after the Civil War. The development of plastics after World War II led to the manufacture of new types of dolls and brought down their price.
Today, the Internet has introduced virtual dolls which can be designed, dressed up, and played with on web sites such as Stardoll, which has 17 million members.
Dolls over the ages have been made from every conceivable material: bisque, celluloid, china, clay, cloth, corn husks, paper, plastic, polymer clay, porcelain, resin, rubber, vinyl, wax, wood, bone, ivory, papier-mâché, leather, and more.