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  • Writer's pictureMallie Fox

Well, That's Not What I Thought It Was

You guys! I think I may own a burial doll and didn't even know it! Let me explain....

Last spring while in New Orleans, I visited an antique shop and happened to see this doll sitting in one of the display cases. I don't know why but I was drawn to it. I had never seen anything like it before.

And since we were in the Voodoo capital of America, we wondered if it could be a voodoo doll. When we asked the shop owner, he quickly said no. I think he's tired of tourists and their Voodoo questions.

However, he did share with us that once a Voodoo ritual has been completed, the doll is destroyed. So, it is highly unlikely that you will find an authentic, antique voodoo doll...good to know.

Unfortunately, he didn't have much information on this particular doll (however, he did have a ton of information on other things, and we were there for a couple of hours, chit chatting away). He thought it was possibly late 1800's to early 1900's and was probably just a homemade rag doll made out of old fabric scraps. And if memory serves me correct, I think he said it was from an estate sale, but I could be wrong on that one.

I am not a doll person at all (with the exception of two, creepy, could be haunted, antique dolls that were gifted to me) and nothing against doll collectors, it's just not my thing. However, I was determined this doll was coming home with me. There was just something about it that made me need to have it.

Now, it's seven months later and imagine my surprise when I came across an article regarding "burial dolls" and these dolls looked familiar. So down the rabbit hole I went...

Most people refer to the dolls as "Peruvian Chancay Burial Dolls." The Chancay people were a pre-Columbian archeological civilization that existed from 1000 CE to around 1470 CE and they were found along the Central Coast of Peru. The dolls were modeled after cloth figures discovered in the Chancay graves. And the materials used for the burial dolls were ancient textiles, collected from burial sites.

The function(s) of the Chancay burial ‘dolls’ is / are unknown, and much speculation has been made regarding this subject. The fact that these ‘dolls’ have been found in graves adds another layer of complexity to this question. For example, it has been proposed that the figurines served as children’s toys, hence the use of the term ‘doll’. One may further inquire if these toys were used by a person when he / she was alive, and then buried with them when they died, or made specifically for funerary purposes. Another suggestion is that they had a similar function to the shabtis of the ancient Egyptians and served as companions or servants in the afterlife. It has been pointed out that in many graves, small scenes involving multiple ‘dolls’ have been found. These ‘dolls’ not only included humans, but also animals and even architectural structures.

“Chancay Burial Dolls: Ancient Peruvian Grave Goods of a Lost Culture” Ancient Origins, 22 Feb. 2016, Chancay Burial Dolls: Ancient Peruvian Grave Goods of a Lost Culture | Ancient Origins ( Accessed 24 Dec. 2022.

Because there is a market for "Peruvian Chancay Burial Dolls," present day artisans are recreating these dolls. And unfortunately, with dishonest people out there, trying to pass a modern doll for an authentic, ancient doll, this can sometimes create problems. One way that may help tell if it's an antique or if it's modern is by the face. An antique burial doll will have a textile woven face whereas the modern doll will have its facial features embroidered onto plain cloth. Also, the material for a modern doll can come from anywhere in Peru unlike an antique doll whose material comes from a specific place, Peru's Central Coast.

Below, are photo examples of "Peruvian Chancay Burial Dolls."

Top Left Photo: Ruby Lane. (2022). Peruvian Dolls: A Bridge Between Past & Present. Dolls | Ruby Lane

Top Right Photo: Etsy. (2022). Folk Art Peruvian Chancay Mummy/Burial Doll. LionandLambVintage - Etsy

Bottom Left Photo: Etsy. (2022). Antique Rare Lot of 2 Peru Inca Chancay Burial Dolls Ancient Textiles. LeftoverStuff - Etsy

Bottom Right Photo: eBay. (2022). Large Pre-Columbian Chancay Burial Doll from Peru Example Very Old Fabric 17.5. acmauctions | eBay Stores

And to the left, is the photo of the antique doll that's in my possession. What do you think when you compare all the photos?

Do you think I possibly could have a "Peruvian Chancay Burial Doll", or am I the owner of an antique rag doll made out of leftover scraps?

Whatever the case may be, it doesn't change the fact I think it's one cool looking doll and I happy it's mine.

xox Mallie


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