Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

What might they have been used for?

We still don't really know what these headdresses were used for. In this video Professor Nicky Milner presents two ideas.
The idea that these antler frontlets were worn as headdresses comes from ethnography - the study of different cultures - and particularly the study of more recent hunter-gatherers. Some archaeologists have suggested that when we consider ethnographic evidence, the best parallels for the European Mesolithic are people from more recent times who live in modern day Siberia, such as the Evenki people. Despite many thousands of years between these people and the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic, there are some parallels, for instance with some of their artefacts.
It was the original excavator of Star Carr, Grahame Clark, who used ethnographic parallels to suggest that the frontlets were either worn as a hunting disguise whilst stalking red deer, or that they were used as headdresses in shamanic rituals. The hunting disguise idea originates from North America and this practice is not widely documented in Siberia. However, headdresses as part of shamanic costumes are well known in Siberia, and Clark used an etching from the 17th century to illustrate his point.
The Evenki like many nomadic and hunter-gatherer peoples live very close to nature and had an animistic worldview - that is that places, objects and creatures have a spirit - and shamans communicated with these spirits through trance in order to ensure good hunting. The suggestion that these headdresses belonged to shamans, or at least people who practiced rituals is controversial because of course it is impossible to be know what the belief systems were that long ago. Nevertheless, other evidence for Mesolithic shamans has been suggested, particularly from burial contexts.
For instance, a 12,000 year old burial in Israel was found surrounded by tortoise shells, as well as a number of animal bones from marten, wild cow, boar, leopard, eagle and even a human foot. Whatever the motivation for making these antler frontlets, we are interested to know whether they were actually worn and if so how they might have fitted onto people’s heads. Our replicas have helped us to start to research this question. The frontlets are actually quite small and do not easily sit on the head of an adult without some form of padding.
In addition, we do not know how they were fixed onto the head - some appear to have holes but some do not - but perhaps cordage or even human hair was used to tie them on. Our research into these antler frontlets is still ongoing and in particular we hope to make more replicas so we can view them all together and test out different theories. But I suspect that these mysterious objects will go on generating new ideas for many years to come.

In this film Nicky explains that there are two dominant theories about how these headdresses were used – as part of costumes used in hunting red deer, or in shamanic rituals.

This article is from the free online

Exploring Stone Age Archaeology: The Mysteries of Star Carr

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now