Helmet, Northwest Coast. This dome-shaped war helmet was carved from a single block of dense wood and represents a killer whale. It covered the warrior's head down to the eyes and was fitted over a fur liner for comfort. PM 69-30-10/1590
Helmet, Northwest Coast, reverse view. PM 69-30-10/1590
War bonnet. This eagle feather headdress with trail is Arapaho from Wyoming. Only distinguished warriors who had performed many exploits could wear such a headdress. PM 49-44-10/32675
War bonnet, reverse view. PM 49-44-10/32675
Crested helmet, Hawaiian. This helmet covered with bright feathers is known as a mahi’ole and it probably belonged to the crown prince of Hawaii in the late 18th Century. PM 99-12-70/53559
Gold helmet, Panama. This gold helmet from Panama was part of the funerary attire of a man from an elite social class. During his life, he may have worn the helmet on ceremonial occasions. PM 33-1-20/209

Helmets are the most common form of headgear used in warfare, and they serve a variety of functions. They shield the head from blows in close-quarters combat and from arrows and sling stones hurled from a distance. Helmets and other warrior headgear can serve to make the head look larger and more formidable. In some cultures, they provide spiritual protection.

Helmets and headdresses are made of metal, wood, cloth, animal teeth, hide, feathers, and even fish skins. Many are decorated to advertise the status and cultural affiliation of the wearer. In some cases, a warrior’s headgear attains an importance that is completely symbolic, with adornment so elaborate as to render it nonfunctional. Such helmets or headdresses are donned only for important ceremonies.

Eleven objects on display