Raymond A. Dart Collection of African Life and Death Masks
The Raymond A. Dart Collection is one of the most comprehensive facemask collections in Africa, comprising 1,110 masks (397 life, 487 death, 226 not stated). The life masks date from 1927 to c.1980s, death masks from 1933 to 1963. Most life masks were collected during fieldtrips to various regions across Africa, with faces of former Wits students once engaged in facial casting workshops also included. Death masks were collected from unclaimed individuals who passed away in Provincial hospitals within the Transvaal province (presently known as Gauteng), under the provision of the South African Human Tissue Act (No. 65 of 1983; and by previous Acts, e.g. the Anatomy Act No. 20 of 1959) to supply materials for medical research and teaching. The establishment of a bequeathal programme in 1958 witnessed the introduction of consenting body donors into the death mask collection. In total, males dominate the collection by 75%. Recorded ages are error prone, but suggest that most life masks comprise of those under the age of 35 years, and most death masks over the age of 36 years. A total of 241 masks have associated skeletons, which are held in the skeletal collection.
The facemasks were initially collected to satisfy typological research enquiries that have since been condemned by modern ethical and scientific values. Today they are instead a viable source for teaching and research within the history of science, specifically biological anthropology, and present some potential within the field of craniofacial identification. They are examples of our vast and beautiful human biodiversity, and we commemorate the lives of those whose faces are represented.
Further details regarding the history, composition and scientific value of the facemask collection are published in:
Houlton T.M.R. & Billings B.K., Blood, sweat and plaster casts: reviewing the history, composition, and scientific value of the Raymond A. Dart Collection of African Life and Death Masks, HOMO – Journal of Comparative Human Biology 68 (2017) 362-377.