Unknown artist, European, Eastern Europe, Hallstatt
Diadem, ca. 1100 BCE
Diameter: 17.8 cm (7 inches) (maxium)
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 2002.102
The four large, carefully crafted spirals on this bronze diadem exemplify a simple design element popularized during the European Bronze Age (1200–800 BCE). The spiral motif typically appeared as an embellishment on jewelry and other objects of personal adornment. This ornate diadem, likely the possession of a person of wealth and prominence, effectively conveyed the status of the owner. Years of burial have lent a rich, green patina to the original golden-brown surface of the diadem. This object was most likely found buried among similar pieces of bronze jewelry and bronze weapons in a grave at the Austrian site of Hallstatt.
About the work
The Hallstatt culture is the name archaeologists give to the people living in central Europe from the late Bronze Age into the Iron Age, or from about 1200 to 500 BCE. An archaeological culture is not a culture in the way we usually use the term: instead of being united by a common language or ethnicity, these are groups of people who left similar traces in the archaeological record, such as burial practices or types of artifact. Prehistoric peoples did not write anything down, so archaeology is our main tool for learning about them. By comparing artifacts, scholars now believe that people the Hallstatt culture were the ancestors of the Celtic-speaking peoples of Central and Western Europe. Though we do not know precisely where this object originated, it is very similar to others found in Hallstatt burials.
By considering what this diadem, or small crown, is made from and how it was made, we can learn about the culture that produced it. The material is bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. Tin is fairly rare: there were only four major European tin deposits that were exploited in prehistory. Unless this object came from the same area as the deposit in the Hallstatt “homeland,” located on the modern German-Czech border, this tin was acquired through trade. Bronze was expensive, so only wealthy individuals could afford a luxury object like this. The diadem’s perfect spirals and simple, elegant design indicate that it was likely the work of a master craftsman, which certainly would have added to its price. Understanding these things, we know that this is the product of an organized society involved in transcontinental trade networks, where the powerful could afford luxury goods made by specialized classes of artisans.
Ask students to research the metals available and the tools produced by prehistoric peoples. What types of tools would have been required to make this object?
Spirals are a ubiquitous form in ancient objects. Why do you think they are so popular? Have students to think about how spirals such as this might have been made, what spirals might have been used for, and the examples of spirals that are found in nature.
This object consists of just four wires and the five bands that join them together. Design another piece of ceremonial headwear using these same components.
Consider who this diadem might have been made for, why they wore it, and how it was worn. Justify your theories by making a persuasive argument for the use of the diadem.
Cunliffe, Barry, ed. The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Cunliffe, Barry. Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC–AD 1000. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.