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First published at November 2003

Prehistoric Hairstyles

by Michael Sones

Everyone knows that cave men and women had long, unkempt and straggly hair. They couldn't speak, grunted like apes, and barely walked upright. Right? Well, actually very wrong.

Venuses of Willendorf and BrassempouyEvidence has been uncovered that indicates hair and hairstyles were a preoccupation of prehistoric stone age peoples in Western Europe more than twenty thousand years ago. What is this evidence? In Western Europe, notably France and Spain, there are many caves with incredible painted walls but very few depictions of human beings. For obvious reasons, there are no preserved mummies with stylized headgear dating from this period. The evidence resides in what archaeologists have called the prehistoric "Venuses." These are small statues of women found throughout Western Europe and dating back many thousands of years. Some have said that these are evidence of a "Great Mother" cult or are some kind of fertility symbol or good luck charm but I think the truth is that we don't really know.


What can we tell from some of these "Venuses"? In the first place it looks as if their hair has been elaborately braided. It has been suggested that what is being depicted is is not a hairstyle but a woven hat. Even so, in order for a hat to fit so neatly it would mean that the hair underneath was either tied up or more probably cut very short. It also means that there were complex social relations. It would have been time consuming to have hair done like that, it would have had to be done by someone else and there are obvious notions of "what looks good" in these cultures. These little statues reveal that stone age peoples of Western Europe lived complex social and emotional lives. Were there prehistoric beauty salons where people went to get their hair done by stone age hairstylists before going on their weekly shopping trip for mammoth?

The Venus of Willendorf is carved from oolitic limestone and its age has been variously estimated at 22-24,000 years B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). It is fairly small, about 11 cm. or 4 inches high and was discovered near Willendorf, Austria in 1908. Traces of red ochre were found on it.

The Venus of Brassempouy from was carved from mammoth ivory and has been estimated at being anywhere from 26,000 -30,000 years old. It was discovered near Brassempouy, Landes, France and is one of the few figures from Ice Age art with facial features.


Witcombe, C. Venus of Willendorf

North Park University, The Woman of Willendorf

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