Date of Award

December 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Bettina Arnold

Committee Members

Patricia Richards, Derek Counts, Bettina Arnold


Birch-Bark Hats, Gender, Headgear, Ideology, Social Stucture


As competition between Celtic elites increased in Iron Age continental Europe (c. 800-25/15 BC), ornamentation of the head figured prominently in status displays across the Celtic world. Mortuary and iconographic contexts reveal that headgear made of both metal and organic materials marked elite status, but materials varied regionally by gender and age throughout the Iron Age. The purpose of this project was to capitalize on the rare opportunity provided by birch-bark hats from west-central European elite burials to investigate organic headgear and the possibility that different types of headgear may have marked different social positions within the elite class. Birch-bark hats were compared to contemporary functional and symbolic metal headgear in both mortuary and iconographic contexts to see how they differed and compared. Costly Signaling Theory was then applied to the birch-bark hat dataset to generate hypotheses for the possible symbolic nature of the hats. While these hats very well may have served a functional purpose in some contexts, the specific use of birch bark and other factors suggest that it is equally, if not more, likely that birch-bark hats in elite burials were symbolic items used to signal a separate position within a specific social category in European Iron Age society.