Sunday, 19 July 2015

A 13,000 year old fashion statement

I finished the Natufian headband, and have had an opportunity to take photos.  Ornaments made from shells were used in the palaeolithic Levant from at least 92,000 years BP and were a characteristic feature of Natufian culture, but we don't know exactly what they signified.  A headband like this one might have carried information about the wearer's social status, or the shells might have functioned as a type of currency.

Fortunately we do know what the headband looked like, so I've been able to reconstruct it.

Since I don't look even remotely Middle Eastern, you will have to use your imagination a bit.

Although this is a reconstruction of a palaeolithic accessory, I think there's something surprisingly modern about it.  It makes me look like a Californian hippy, and I can easily picture a Californian hippy wearing it*.

This is where the two ends of the headband join up.

I think the way I've joined the thread ends looks quite attractive, but I have no idea how historically accurate it is.  I've knotted the warp ends together and pushed them back through the beads to make them tidy, which seems like a logical thing to do, but the original fibers have rotted away so there's no evidence of how it was really done.

The Challenge: Accessorize.

Fabric: 57cm strip of weft twined fabric, with rows of beads strung on the warp threads.

Pattern: N/A.  I did consult diagrams of surviving Natufian textiles, but I don't think that really counts as a pattern.

Year: 14,000 to 13,000 BP (or 12,000 to 11,000 BCE).

Notions: Dentalium shell beads.

How historically accurate is it?  This piece is about as accurate as it's possible to get when reconstructing anything from this time period.  Any reconstruction of an item from so long ago is necessarily conjectural, because no complete items survive and we just don't know how they were made.  As I discussed in my last post, we're lucky even to know what this headband looked like.  However, I have been careful to use materials available to the Natufians, and to make the textile using techniques attested in the archeological record.

Hours to complete: 6 hours.  Warp twined textiles take a long time to make, especially when the process also involves sorting dentalium shells into groups of roughly equal length and threading them onto the warp threads.

First worn:  For photos.

Total cost:  I can't remember how much the dentalium shells cost, but I'd guess it was around $15 to $20.  The thread just came off my big spool of linen.

*Why California?  Because it is extremely cold here right now and I am daydreaming about a holiday in the Napa Valley.


  1. An incredibly nifty project! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    I wonder what else the woman (or man--do we know the gender of the skull that the beads were found on?) was wearing when she died? It would be neat to reconstruct the entire outfit, if there was an outfit other than the beads.

    1. Thanks Cathy! It's been a fun little project to do.

      This burial was an adult male, but dentalium shells are found in both male and female burials, and in children's burials. There doesn't seem to have been much in the way of gender differences. This particular man also had a necklace and a band of shells around one of his legs. It would be awesome to reconstruct the whole outfit, but as far as I know there were no traces of any other clothing. I assume there was other clothing, but it has decayed.

      There is some evidence to suggest that a couple of Natufian burials might have included capes made with or decorated with dentalium shells. That would certainly be an interesting project, but I'd need to do a bit more research first.

    2. Interesting. Thanks for the additional information.

  2. That's fabulous! I really can picture it worn by a modern fashionista. :-)
    (And I envy you the cold at the moment.)

    1. Thanks! I was really surprised at how modern it looks. I don't know how I expected it to look, but I was expecting something more, you know, stone age-ey.

    2. I wonder if this headwear was the precursor for safety helmets and other protective garments. You know, "beware of falling rocks". Did the Natufian people live in mountainous regions where rockfall was an environmental hazard?

    3. Now that's an interesting idea! I don't know how prevalent rockfalls are in that region, but I doubt headgear made from dentalium shells would provide much protection. The shells are fairly fragile.

  3. This is fantastic! I like it very much.