Deer Scalp Headdress

Deer scalp headdress. UCM 6201. Photo by Francois Gohier.

This deer scalp headdress is part of the Mantle's Cave collection at the University of Colorado Museum. Mantle's Cave is located in Dinosaur National Monument in northwestern Colorado, just south of the Yampa River. It is a large, vaulted, north-facing cave formed of sandstone. It is named after Charley Mantle, the property owner during the 1940 excavation of the cave.

A variety of material remains were recovered from Mantle's Cave during the 1939 discoveries and the 1940 excavation. These include: flake stone tools, ground stone, bone implements, bags made of hide and netting, coiled basketry, snares, cordage, matting, moccasins, headdresses, corn and more.
Charles R. Scoggin discovered Mantle's Cave Cache 3, which contained this deer scalp headdress and a pair of moccasins. The headdress had been placed on a bed of cedar bark in a shallow pit with the pair of moccasins on top of it.
The unique and carefully crafted headdress is made from the crown of a doe. The hair was removed and the hide was tanned. The ears have feather quills woven in them. Cedar bark was stuffed into the ears at the base. Both strategies help the ears to stand rigid. What appear to be the eye holes were sewn shut with cordage that is two ply, S spin, Z final twist.
Eyes sewn shut are also seen in the pouch that held the flicker feather headdress from Cache 1, although the cordage used to sew those slits was two ply, Z spin, S final twist. Recently obtained radiocarbon dates indicate this headdress is from the Middle Archaic (3000-500 B.C.E.).
Few other similar headdresses have been recovered in archaeological contexts. Allen and Munsey (2002:101) describe a partial deer scalp headdress recovered from Canyonlands (Utah), and radiocarbon dated to 1470-1660 C.E. It is similar in construction to the Mantle's Cave specimen, having the eye sewn shut. It varies in that the ear is stiffened with a twig. It also has part of an antler and is decorated with olivella shells.
Their research on Numic and Puebloan ethnographic animal headdresses, the few similar headdresses recovered from eastern Great Basin archaeological contexts and Great Basin rock art, Fremont and earlier, allow them to suggest that such headdresses were used ceremonially to prepare for hunts or as disguises in hunts. They posit that the Mantle's Cave headdress may be a precursor to their specimen, hence also possibly used in ritual.
This deer headdress produced two calibrated 14C dates of 1772-1509 B.C.E. (.99) and 1620-1410 B.C.E. (.94) which we interpret as about 1241 B.C.E. This date was completely unexpected because it has been believed that Mantle's Cave was used roughly between about 400 and 800 C.E.
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