Crowns & headdresses
The material of Pharaonic headdresses or crowns has been subject of much debate. This is due to the fact that the crowns of the pharaohs were never uncovered from archaeological context. Beaded headdresses, however, are the exception to this rule. Therefore the only ‘proof’ for the material of Egyptian crowns comes from beads.
The Blue Crown (better called by its ancient Egyptian name Cheperesh) is one of the most interesting examples. Although this crown has never been uncovered either, there are several sources that do give us information about this crown. In 1998 a preliminary study was conducted on this so-called Blue Crown. One of the conclusions that could be drawn was that disc beads most likely decorated the surface. The beads may have been attached by placing the discs flat on the surface of the headgear and keeping it in place by threading another, smaller bead over the perforation of the disc to keep it in place. Of course such a technique also implies that the surface of the crown was most likely made of a soft material. A statue in the Louvre, Paris, has been crucial in the interpretation. A small wooden statue of dubious date, shows disc beads on the surface. Since the material of the crown of the statue is wood, no threads or smaller beads were used to attach the discs. The beads were pressed into a hardening surface.
The circle decoration on the surface of many depicted headdresses in pharaonic reliefs is sometimes suggested to be stylized hair. This is mainly because on some reliefs hair is depicted in the same manner as the decoration on some of the Egyptian crowns. It is said in texts from ancient Egypt, that hair of the gods is made of blue lapis lazuli, an often-used material for the production of beads as well. In the search for the meaning and material of crowns, this has been an important clue. The ridges of the Blue Crown and the shape have been much discussed referring to hairstyle. Although comparisons over long periods of time and the search for parallels in contemporary Africa for pharaonic headgear is considered not done in archaeology, we would like to point out Central African style hairstyles worn some 150 years ago. No conclusions will be drawn from it; it is merely placed here to show that the shape of the Cheperesh and the link with hairstyle is not at all farfetched.
The Egyptian museum in Berlin holds another clue to the Egyptian crowns in relation to beadwork. Here a small wooden statue of queen Tiye (C14BC) as the goddess Hathor, shows remains of blue beadwork on the surface. A beaded fabric probably produced using brick stitches was pressed into the hardening surface of the crown on the statue. Although the beadwork only survived very fragmentary, the surface of the headgear does show impressions where the beads were once placed.
Another headdress was uncovered from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The head of the mummy of the king was wearing a headdress made of cloth covered with separately attached, beaded cobras. The cloth itself was attached to a headband made of gold. These headbands are often depicted in reliefs where kings or gods wear crowns. The crowns are attached to the gold headbands and thus kept in place on the head of the wearer. It is likely that this headgear discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun really is one of the only crows ever discovered in ancient Egypt.
Other crowns from the period, such as Nefertiti’s crown also show traces of beadwork remains. Although most of the mentioned headgear dates to the same period in Egyptian history, the New Kingdom (C16-C11 BC and more specific the 14th century) the familiarity of the headdresses in other periods might suggest that beads decorated the crowns of the pharaohs for much longer.
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