Traces of style from the past

One can only hypothesize about the way the prehistoric people clothed themselves. By studying skirts, dresses, accessories and hairstyles one can get a general overview of this intangible heritage.

With no written records and no physical material evidence of prehistoric fashion can only be drawn by inferring from the actual artefacts found.

Clothing, which would have been made from animal skins, that being their only resource, has never been found in local excavations since the material itself would have perished.

So how can we be sure that these people clothed themselves? Most of the statues and statuettes we have seem to be naked.

However, we have a number of statues which very evidently show skirts and in two instances there are two statues which seem to be wearing full dresses.

The most common item of clothing apparent on the statues is the skirt. 

Irrespective of the size of the statues, one can clearly see a recurring pattern.

It seems that these ‘clothed’ statues were dressed only from the waist down, with the upper part of the body being shown naked.

With regard to the skirt, it is only its lower part which is decorated in a pleat-like manner.

There are only a few examples of full dresses in Maltese prehistoric representations

There are two stone statues of the seated type which were carved in a way as to show them wearing a full but relatively undecorated dress.

One of the two has a very visible neckline which shows that the dress had some basic decoration or accessory on the top part.

A number of accessories were found in burial sites together with other apparent personal belongings. This leads one to think that such communities used accessories which can be related to fashionable items.

Excavations from burial contexts have yielded a number of semi-circular shell artefacts which have particular holes in the flat part. The interlinking holes were mostly two but occasionally four.

The interlinking holes found in these artefacts give an indication that these were used as buttons. The fact that they were found in burial contexts suggest that Neolithic people were buried with their clothing.

Clothing material
What would their clothes have been made of? How were these clothes produced? Skirts, dresses, and any other type of clothing they had would have had to be sewn together. 

Through the evidence of fragments of spindle whorls we can attest that some sort of spinning of yarn took place but it gives us no indication as to the actual material used.

We can only suppose that sheep’s wool, through osteological evidence of sheep bones, would have been put to good use in this regard.

Excavations have yielded a number of worked bones which greatly resemble sewing needles. It is fascinating to see how the Neolithic people maximize their resources by making use of all the materials they had at hand.

Did these communities groom themselves and have a particular hairstyle?

Looking closely at a number of stone-carved or clay-moulded heads one can see a trend in hairstyle fashion.

A short chin-length bob-style seems to have been the predominant hairstyle at the time as most of the heads attest. However one will also note a few plaits.

It stands to reason that some hair would have naturally been curly and this is also represented in some of the clay baked heads with incisions to give the impression of wavy or curled hair.

One particular hairstyle is that of The Sleeping Lady. In this case, the crown of the head is completely lacking any hair, therefore implying that that part of the hair was shaved off.

The rest of the hair is let down loose to shoulder length as can be seen from the incised lines.

The human figure
When one talks of fashion nowadays an image that immediately comes to mind is probably a catwalk with models showing off the designers’ clothes. Was it the same for prehistoric societies?

The physique of the male or female model nowadays is normally that of a lean body. The statues of the Neolithic period give us a clear clue that a full figure, verging on the obese was being venerated. Was it a sign of fertility?

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