March 24, 2018
Hats and Headdresses: From Antiquity to the Present

Talk by Ira Spar

Some pictures
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If you are not wearing a skullcap; you are not a manť (Central Asia popular saying)

Hats are mainly used in western culture as utilitarian items to cover the head and protect against the elements, for some they may be part of an eloquent fashion ensemble designed to decorate the body. But many ethnic hats and headdresses decorated with eye-catching objects of material culture (such as beads, feathers, horns, or shells) or woven with signifying patterns and colors are marks of the wearer’s wealth, status, gender and powers. Hats may also call attention to a distinctive group or subgroups, units of kinship, religious affiliation, gender, life achievements, and membership in a society. They may reflect beliefs, refer to historical events, myths or legends and offer protection from the incursion of mysterious forces. In Africa the expression “To be born with a hat,” said of infants whose head is covered by a fetal membrane, means to be born lucky; a sign of future power and leadership.

In his lecture Professor Spar will survey hats and headgear and their meanings beginning with images drawn from Paleolithic cave art, Egyptian tomb reliefs and Mesopotamian sculpture to 19th and 20th century hats from Africa and Asia, many drawn from his personal collection.

Ever since his elementary school days, Dr. Spar has been fascinated with hats. On a regular basis he wears different Central Asian hats to synagogue, their choice varying with the cycle of the holidays. Ira Spar is Professor of Ancient History at Ramapo College of New Jersey where he teaches courses on the history and archaeology of the ancient world. For the past 40 years he was Research Assyriologist in the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has published a four volume edition of the Museum’s collection of ancient Babylonan and Sumerian cuneiform tablets which includes his discovery of a new portion of the Babylonian story of the Flood.

From 1987 to 1997 he founded and co-directed the New Jersey Archaeological Consortium-Tel Aviv University excavations at Tel Hadar, located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. This project led to the discovery of the long lost biblical kingdom of Geshur. In addition his many articles, he has written and narrated a children’s book based on an ancient Babylonian myth (Google, “Marduk, King of the Gods”). A biographical sketch of his career at the Museum is featured in Danny Danziger, Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.

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