In 1835 in the town of Schifferstadt in Southwest Germany, a treasure from the Bronze Age was unearthed. Buried in an upright position atop a sheet of burnt clay, this mysterious object was found with three bronze axes leaning against its hammered gold surface. The object itself is a sheet of gold, hammered thin and shaped into a tall conical hat. Standing at just under a foot tall, the Golden Hat of Schifferstadt is the oldest, dated between 1400 and 1300 BC, of the so-called “Golden Hats.” (1)
Gold From the Age of Bronze
All four of the similar artifacts which are referred to as the “Golden Hats” are thought to have originated from the Urnfield Culture which was widespread in Central and Eastern Europe from about 1300 BC to 750 BC. The “Urnfield” name is given to the culture associated with archeology sites involving early examples of ritualized urn burials. There is little known about the specific lifestyles of this late Bronze Age culture, however artifacts like the Golden Hats have allowed anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians to piece together a patchwork of information. (2)
It is now commonly held that these hats represent some form of ritualized sun worship. The truth of the matter, though, is that we simply don’t know what these hats were for. Although they are all different sizes, the Schifferstadt hat is the shortest with the Berlin Golden Hat standing a few inches shy of triple its height, all four hats are otherwise remarkably similar. (3)
If it is unclear what these hats were used for, specifically, the reasons that they were made are at least equally indiscernible. What we do know, at least, is that the Golden Hats seem to share a hidden bit of knowledge which might nudge us in the direction of understanding their history and purpose.
Each hat is similarly decorated with stamped-on designs which wrap around the cylindrical body of the object. Between each hat, these intricate designs are noteworthy for their obvious similarities. Concentric circles, dots, and eye-shaped designs wind their way up to the hats’ pinnacles in patterns which are regular and precise. While we may not yet understand why the Golden Hats were made or what purpose these artifacts served for the Urnfield peoples who crafted and presumably donned them, we can at least observe a potential function within these designs. (4)
It is now believed that the concentric rings of designs which are a common feature shared between all four hats represent a calendar system. Through observations and calculations which are frankly too complex for this simple history writer to relay effectively, researches have determined that the ornamentation of the cones may represent a lunar and solar calendar system. Most of this research has been focused on the Berlin Golden Hat whose design seems to be the least damaged of the four. (5)
According to researchers, the various shapes which encircle these hats may refer to days, periods of days, or increasing units of time. Through these symbols, some say that the Berlin Golden Hat represents a period of up to fifty-seven months and may be used to predict future lunar or solar cycles. Looking into this point, I was shocked by how often this hypothesis has been discussed as if it were fact. (6)
The likelihood that these hats feature lunar or solar cycles is extremely high, however the level of astronomical knowledge held by their manufacturers is an utter unknown. A paper presented at the 2018 conference of the European Society for Astronomy in Culture examined the patterns of the hats and found them to be inconclusive. The precise repeating symbols and motifs likely refer to a calendar of some sort, but the complexity of this calendar may be too difficult to determine until more hats or similar artifacts are discovered intact. (7)
The Golden Hats are a tantalizing mystery from a culture which has left behind such sparse clues as to the lives of its people. Speculative writing sometimes refers to these artifacts as “wizard hats.” As odd as it sounds, I think that’s probably an accurate summation of what we know so far. For reasons unknown, ancestors of European cultures once donned hats of hammered gold which could top two feet of height. These hats are stamped with arcane symbols in patterns which we instinctively know must mean something, however we lack the key to crack the code. As advanced as we consider ourselves, our pre-industrial, pre-electricity, pre-just-about-everything ancestors have taken a secret to their graves which taunts us with its simplicity. The secret here lies in just a few pieces of metal stamped with circles and rings, and yet we know almost nothing about it. What, after all, is a wizard if not the keeper of hidden knowledge?