Anthropomorphic artifacts have unique characteristics, as they are closely related to social and technical cognition and contain complex information. However, their meanings can be elusive. The present study aimed to examine how modern Japanese people perceive the faces of Japanese prehistoric (13,000-800 cal BC) and protohistoric (AD 250-600) anthropomorphic artifacts by focusing on the facial expressions and impressions of clay figure faces. The study included 75 Japanese participants and 131 figure faces from three historical periods. The results showed that participants perceived the prehistoric and protohistoric facial expressions differently (as being happier, sadder, and less surprised), depending on the period they were created in. We examined the relationships between impressions and perceived expressions of the figure faces, and found that faces became more complicated due to the introduction of facial morphometric features. The results may be applicable to understanding the variation in Japanese figures, especially the faces.
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