I’ve written about hair in another post, so here I am going to collate the evidence for headgear in prehistoric Europe. I have left out military (or pseudo-military) headgear for another post, that I will write at some point in the future. More examples of hats and headgear will be added to this post as and when I find them.
Il Principe (The Prince) is the nickname given to a rich burial from the Upper Palaeolithic from the Arene Candide (white sand) caves in Liguria in Italy. There were several burials in the cave system but The Prince, dated to about 23,500 uncal BP, was the most elaborate. The skeleton was of an adolescent male, about 15 years old, and he was wearing a cap covered in sea shells and deer canines, as well as pendants of mammoth ivory and batons of elk antler (Pettitt et al 2003, 15).
While clearly used for a special purpose, such as stalking deer or for pre- or post-hunting ceremonies, the Mesolithic is known for the red deer antler headdresses found at Star Carr in Yorkshire. The top of the deer skull was trimmed so just the upper part of the cranium was left, as were the antlers so they weren’t too heavy to wear on the head, the interior was ground smooth and two holes were cut into the back of these frontlets so that they could be tied to the head. Twenty-one of them were found at Star Carr but no others have been found in Britain (Milner et al 2013, 49).
Ötzi lost his bearskin fur cap just before he died and it was recovered some way from the body, encased in ice. It was made of several pieces of bearskin sewn together to make a cap, which had the fur side turned outwards. Two leather thongs were attached at the temples and knotted together at the other end, presumably originally under the chin (Spindler 1993, 134).
A conical hat made from several triangular pieces of sheepskin (fur side in) sewn to a band and the base, and decorated with tassels at the point at the top of the head was found in Grünerwerk salt mine in Hallstatt, Austria. It was preserved because of the salt deposits in the mine (Harris et al 2009, 23). It might date to about 1500-1000 BC.
Men buried in oak coffins in the late Iron Age of Denmark seem to have sported a different style of hat. That of the Muldbjerg ‘chieftain’ was made of several layers of woollen material, with sixteen rows of stitching on the inside and on the outside it was covered with thousands of short threads ending in knots so it looked like a fur cap. It may have been a helmet, but had been included here because it may have just been domestic. A similar cap was found on the ‘old man’ of Borum Eshøj (Glob 1970, 38, 80).
The woman at Borum Eshøj had a beautiful hairnet made of wool in the sprang style, which is a type of braiding which results in springy net-like products (Glob 1970, 45). Below is an image of the surviving hairnet and one reconstruction of the way it was worn.
The sixth century BC princely grave at Hochdorf had a curious hat made of birch bark. It was conical and low, almost like a sun hat. Other examples have been found in other rich graves, such as at Stuttgart Bad Cannstatt, and a statue from Hirschlanden shows a warrior wearing what looks like a similar type of headgear. Although the hat seems simple, it was decorated with stamped designs and probably bestowed an air of authority on the wearer (Biel 1985; Verger 2006, 8-9).
Tollund Man, a man sacrificed and thrown into a bog in Denmark around 300 BC, was not wearing very much other than a belt and a hat (although it may be that he had originally been wearing a tunic or long shirt made from plant fibres that did not survive in the bog like Huldremose woman, which destroys alkali substances like bones and plants but preserves acidic materials like skin, nails and hair). The hat, similar to the one from Grünerwerk in Hallstatt above, was made of eight tapered pieces of sheepskin with the fur side inwards and shaped to a point. These were sewn to a band made of sheepskin, again fur side in, and secured to his head with two leather thongs sewn onto the band at the temples and tied under his chin. Here is a pattern to make the hat.
Biel, J. 1985. Der Keltenfürst von Hochdorf. Stuttgart, Konrad Theiss Verlag.
Glob, P.V, 1970. The Mound People. London, Faber and Faber Limited.
Harris, S, Rösel-Mautendorfer, H, Grömer, K & Reschreiter, H, 2009. Cloth cultures in prehistoric Europe: the Bronze Age evidence from Hallstatt. Archaeology International. 12, pp.22–26
Milner, N, Taylor, B, Conneller, C & Schadla-Hall, T, 2013. Star Carr: Life in Britain after the Ice Age. York, Council for British Archaeology.
Pettitt, P.B, Richards, M, Maggi, R & Formicola, V, 2003. The Gravettian burial known as the Prince (“Il Principe”): new evidence for his age and diet. Antiquity 77 (295). pp 15-19.
Spindler, K 1993. The Man in the Ice. London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
Verger, S, 2006 . La grande tombe de Hochdorf, mise en scène funéraire d’un cursus honorum tribal hors pair. Siris 7. pp 5-44.