The Walters provides an excellent overview of the significance of skeletal masks to the Mexica, which I have included below.
Throughout Mesoamerica, the wearing of masks was central to the performance of religious rituals and reenactments of myths and history. The face is the center of identity, and by changing one’s face, a person can transcend the bounds of self, social expectations, and even earthly limitations. In this transformed state, the human becomes the god, supernatural being or mythic hero portrayed.
Masks of skeletal heads, whether human or animal, are relatively common, for death played a central role in Mexica religion. Death was one of the twenty daysigns of the Mexican calendar, indicating its essential place in the natural cycle of the cosmos. Death also was directly connected to the concept of regeneration and resurrection, which was a basic principle in Aztec religious philosophy.
A key Mexica myth recounts the journey of Ehecatl, a wind god who was an aspect of Quetzalcóatl (“Feathered Serpent”), a powerful Mesoamerican deity. Ehecatl travels to Mictlán, the land of the dead, where he retrieves the bones of long-dead ancestors. He grinds their bones and mixes the powder with his blood, offered in sacrifice. With this potent mixture, the god formed the new race of humans who, according to Mexica cosmology, inhabit the present fifth age of Creation. Thus, death and rebirth are intimately connected in Aztec thought and religious practice.
The mask represents the concept of life generated from death with visages animated by lively eyes and painted skin. The mask was probably worn during rituals, covering the performer’s face or attached to an elaborate, full-head mask, and transforms the person into a new being that symbolizes the pan-Mesoamerican belief in life springing from death as a natural, and inevitable, process of the mystical universe. (Walters)
St Margaret Book of Hours.
"Seven days and nights I sat beside the body, weeping for Enkidu beside the body,
and then I saw a worm fall out of his nose. Must I die too? Must Gilgamesh be like that?
It was then I felt the fear of it in my belly. I roam the wilderness because of the fear.
Enkidu, the companion, whom I loved, is dirt, nothing but clay is Enkidu.
Weeping as if I were a woman I roam the paths and shores of unknown places saying: ‘Must I die too? Must Gilgamesh be like that?’”
-Epic of Gilgamesh 18th century B.C.
Infinity of Nations. Assiniboine Antelope Headdress, Nahua Mask, Heiltsuk Mask, Shield of Crow Chief Arapoosh Sore Belly Apsáalooke, Kumukwamł Chief of the Undersea Mask, Maya Portrait Head, Nepcetat Mask,Yup’ik Bird Mask, Muisca Cermaic Head (top to bottom). Smithsonian Museum of the Native American.
Abu Yahya Zakariya’ ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini; ‘Wonders of the Seven Seas’ section of ‘Aja’ib al-makhluqat wa-ghara’ib al-mawjudat (Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing), ca. 1203-1283 CE.
Mid 20th century
Paper, colored inks
A member of the Goroka tribe located in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, photographed by Jimmy Nelson. Jimmy Nelson is a photographer from the United Kingdom that created the project “Before they pass away” where he went to the most remote places in the planet to visit and document the lifestyle of 29 tribes that are very likely to disappear because of the expansion of modern societies.