• Stephanie J. Harris University of South Africa


Ancient Egyptian women’s headdresses in the form of circlets, fillets and diadems are intriguing in their complexity. In response to the increased need to indicate social status in a poorly literate dynastic society, these items of personal adornment became a powerful form of non-verbal communication. Garlands, originally made from handfuls of river plants, gradually developed into innovative and imaginatively powerful visual symbols when fashioned from metal and a variety of semi-precious stones. Botanical motifs symbolic of the Nile River and the duality of a unified Sema Tawy (Two Lands) were incorporated into magical and superstitious symbolism that encompassed social, political, religious, mythological and amuletic contexts. The headdresses that were worn were not purely ornamental but, it was believed, also provided apotropaic protection for the head. Flower motifs, material and colour played an important role in their belief system. The iconography and symbolism incorporated into a delicately crafted gold wire diadem excavated from Princess Khnumet’s 12th Dynasty (Middle Kingdom) tomb at Dashur (and currently housed in the Cairo Museum) will be systematically interpreted at primary and secondary levels in order to provide some insight into its owner. Given the relationship between form and function, a novel connection has been proposed between the iconography and symbolism, and the diadem’s use during an annual Nile inundation cultic festival.


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