Prehistoric Anthropomorphic Figurines with Masks as the Basis for the Kuker’s Ritual in Bulgarian Folklore

  • Małgorzata Grębska-Kulow


Anthropomorphic figures made of clay are a common element of prehistoric cultures in the eastern Mediterranean region. They are represented by a great variety of shapes and ornamentations. Some of them even wear masks on their heads. Most of the masks are of animals, primarily rams, goats, and poultry, but there are also masks with very long necks as well. A ram’s mask is always attributed to male figures, which are generally rare in prehistoric art. These objects contain certain symbols and express ancient rituals. For its contents one can guess from certain rituals still in practice in Bulgarian folk culture. It is evident that prehistoric practices shaped the basis for later rituals preserved in Bulgarian folklore until the present.

The masquerade is very common in the Bulgarian folk tradition known as the “Kuker’s Games.” Bulgarian masquerade games take place mainly between Christmas and Easter and are associated with the change from the old year to the new year and with the upcoming reawakening of nature. They bring wishes for a rich harvest, health, and fertility among humans and animals, and are intended to chase away evil forces and prepare for a new beginning. Rams, goats, and bulls are on the most ancient masks. Another Kuker’s mask is of a hyperbolized head with a neck, which is typical of Neolithic anthropomorphic iconography and symbolizes the woman as a house chimney.

Their mandatory presence in the Kuker’s Games proved that these games are associated with ancient rituals, the roots of which can be traced to prehistory. The games give us an idea about the function of prehistoric figurines with masks, the ideological concept they symbolize, and the possible behavior of prehistoric people and their rituals and traditions.


Kukers Mask Prehistoric figurines Ram mask Balkans 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Regional Museum of HistoryBlagoevgradBulgaria

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