The earliest dolls were not actually dolls at all but religious images. Most archaeological evidence of these have been found in graves, showing that these dolls were of a funereal nature.
The most famous of these dolls are the Ushabti of ancient Egypt. However, dolls were still made for children from very early on. These dolls, if found, are very crude.
Jointed dolls date back to the ancient Greeks, if not earlier. These were fashioned from burnt clay with tiny limbs attached to the body by cord or string. The Romans also used small clay dolls to entertain children. Very rich Roman children may even have been lucky enough to have wooden dolls with movable limbs. A carved wooden doll was found in the grave of a child in the Prati de Castello at Rome. This doll had carefully fashioned hands but the limbs were only made of strips of wood. An ornamental ivory doll was also found in the sarcophagus of the Empress Maria, daughter of Stilicho and wife of the Emperor Honorius, who died in the fifth century.
The earliest references to dolls in Europe point to the rag doll as been the oldest type of doll. It is only by literary references that this has been ascertained as it is very unlikely that these types of dolls would have survived the Dark Ages. The earliest surviving European dolls are made of clay.
Early wooden dolls were often very crude but eventually were made with movable limbs and could be dressed in the fashions of the time. Some of these dating to the 1700’s survive today but are very rare and very valuable.
Fashion dolls have also been used for many years. Originally these were not made as a plaything, but were used to show off the latest fashion designs. Many an English Queen would have sent to France for the latest model in French fashion. The great age for fashion dolls was the eighteenth century.
Other mediums which became popular in doll making were the bisque-head, composition and wax dolls.