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I'm writing about a cultural artifact that is now used as an aesthetic object in a museum but, prior to this ethnographic view, was used as a ceremonial object. I'm looking for a term that refers to this initial use. (I'd use it for a section heading.)

To clarify from the comments, I am looking for a single, detached term/noun particularly because "original purpose/use" can connote that the object has lost that first intent. In my case, the object was really just stolen and could still be used for its original intent if someone were returned to its creators.

In a sentence: "While the mask today is appreciated for its aesthetic qualities, its [original usage or first intention] was as a ceremonial totem."

  • Why does "original usage" not work? Would original purpose fit better? – Hank Feb 27 '17 at 19:09
  • If you use its purpose was, it would make things clear. – vickyace Feb 27 '17 at 19:09
  • Its creation was strictly as a ceremonial totem for ritual, not for decor. – Yosef Baskin Feb 27 '17 at 19:33
  • ... it was originally a ceremonial totem. – jxh Feb 27 '17 at 21:35
  • Insofar as "design" implies intended form, function, uses, and users, you might consider some variant like "originally designed as." Though were this mine, I'd be trying to work "appreciated" into the second clause for parallelism. One possibility: While the mask today is appreciated for its aesthetic qualities, its intended users would have appreciated its role as a ceremonial totem. – MDHunter Feb 27 '17 at 22:49
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You may use the term genesis:

  • the origin or coming into being of something. (M-W)

  • "While the mask today is appreciated for its aesthetic qualities, its genesis was as a ceremonial totem."

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