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Headdress

  • Place of origin:

    Egypt (made)

  • Date:

    300-600 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Plain woven linen, with wool cord

  • Credit Line:

    Given by H M Kennard through Flinders Petrie

  • Museum number:

    420-1889

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 14

Although this headdress is exceptionally well preserved, it cannot be precisely dated. A married woman in Egypt in the first millennium AD was expected to cover her head when out of doors, and finds from many burial sites show that fine hairnets and elaborately patterned caps were common protection.

The headdress with its long scarf-like ends is so loosely woven that it creates the impression of stripes. The original rectangular piece of textile has been seamed together and gathered at one short end to fit on top of the head. The other short end has been split up to the neck to form two flaps, possibly serving as a scarf around the neck or it could have been wrapped around the head like a turban. The flaps end in a fringe made out of the warp threads. There are remains of purple wool ties at chin level for fastening it.

Physical description

Head-dress of fine linen, loosely woven in plain weave with transverse stripes, stripes more widely spaced and narrower towards the end of 'scarf'. The stripes are alternatively a stripe of woven fabric and a stripe of warp threads alone (i.e. they have not been woven up by the insertion of weft threads). The original rectangular piece of textile has been seamed together and gathered at one end to fit on top of the head. The joining stitches are decoratively executed. The other end has been split up to the neck to form two 'flaps', possibly serving as wrap. The raw edges have been rolled and handstitched. The 'flaps' end in a fringe, made out of the warp threads. Purple wool ties at chin level for tying still remain.

Place of Origin

Egypt (made)

Date

300-600 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Plain woven linen, with wool cord

Dimensions

Height: 107.5 cm maximum, Width: 21.1 cm, Height: 36.2 cm from top of head to split in neck, Height: 22.5 cm from top of head to wool ties

Object history note

Given by H M Kennard through the renowned Egyptologist, Professor William Flinders Petrie.

Historical significance: Much headwear has been found in Egypt but so far been little studied. Although this headdress is exceptionally well preserved, it cannot be precisely dated. Its precise significance is still, therefore, difficult to assess.

Historical context note

Technique
Most headwear found in Coptic graves in Upper Egypt is made in sprang and is bag-shaped. Sprang is a method of making a textile by manipulating parallel threads of a warp, interlinking, interlacing, or intertwining adjacent threads or groups of threads. It creates an elastic textile that can be stretched to fit individual measurements. In contrast, this headdress uses bands of plain weave in between bands of unwoven warp threads to create a firm structure with a certain amount of flexibility that would allow the headdress to stretch over the head. The long ends at each side of the head could have been worn around the neck or loose on the shoulders. Another possibility is that they served as hairband/or net. According to Hero Granger-Taylor (personal communication early 2009) the headdress would have been worn as a turban.

Use
Typically, it was the custom that women covered their heads. Simple veils, or the edges of scarfs and shawls were used for this purpose. However, there were also special coifs in the form of nets, headrolls or bonnets. Women's heads were even covered within the tomb - as were their feet - as death for the believer was not an end, but a preparation for a new birth. Christians therefore wished to present themselves in their finest clothes at the moment of the resurrection of the body. Sometimes the headwear was put on the body in a different way from the way it would have been worn in life (for example, placed over the eyes. Or several could be worn one on top of the other). For a useful discussion, see Frances Pritchard. Clothing Culture: Dress in Egypt in the First Millennium AD. Manchester: Whitworth Art Gallery, 2006, Chapter 6.

Descriptive line

loosely woven linen, with transverse stripes, purple wool string ties, fringed; made in Egypt (Fayum); 300-599

Production Note

From an ancient tomb

Materials

Linen; Wool

Techniques

Plain weave; Hand stitching

Categories

Accessories; Archaeology; Death; Hats & headwear; Africa

Collection

Middle East Section

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