Archaeological textiles is a difficult specialty since most of the material deteriorates rapidly. It is rare when prehistoric textiles are recovered. However, what textile archaeologists do have for study are the tools used in making textiles: spindle whorls, loom weights, combs, and other tools. When I go to museums, I often look at objects outside of my own area of interest and in the following pages, I’ll be providing some support for my friends who work in textiles.
Some resources for those of you who are interested in historical and ancient textiles include the European Textile Forum whose mission is “…to give academics and craftspeople working with historical textile techniques a place and opportunity to meet with each other. This is the perfect surrounding and the perfect place to solve technical questions regarding your textile and to get input from others working on similar pieces – both on the academic and on the craft side.”
Please note that many of these photos are taken from outside glass cases and can’t provide measurements and weights. However, I will do my best to provide as much information about the context as possible. Click on the thumbnails below for a larger image.
For more information about textiles in archaeology and history, I can recommend the books below. Click on the image for a direct link.
Elizabeth Wayland Barber Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years - Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times
A brief selection of articles and other resources:
Chittock, Helen 2014 Arts and Crafts in Iron Age Britain: Reconsidering the aesthetic effects of weaving combs. Oxford Journal Of Archaeology 33(3) 313–326
Gleba, Margarita 2012 From textiles to sheep: investigating wool fibre development in pre-Roman Italy using scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3643e3661
Mårtensson, Linda, Marie-Louise Nosch, and Eva Andersson Strand 2009 Shape Of Things: Understanding a loom weight. Oxford Journal Of Archaeology 28(4) 373–398
Rast-Eicher, Antoinette, Lise Bender Jørgensen 2012 Sheep Wool in Bronze Age and Iron Age Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 40
Shishlina, N.I., O.V. Orfinskaya And V.P. Golikov 2003 Bronze Age Textiles From The North Caucasus: New evidence of fourth millennium bc fibres and fabrics. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 22(4) 331–344
Standley, Eleanor R. 2106 Spinning Yarns: The Archaeological Evidence for Hand Spinning and its Social Implications, c ad 1200–1500. Medieval Archaeology, 60/2
Webb, Jennifer 2002 New Evidence for the Origins of Textile Production in Bronze Age Cyprus. Antiquity 76
Textile tools in the Bologna Museum of Archaeology
I took some photos of textile tools while on a recent trip to the Museum of Archaeology in Bologna. The cases were nicely organised by context. That is, rather than group all the spindle whorls together and all the beads together somewhere else, the objects were grouped according to where they were found. For example, if they were found in a burial, all the grave goods were displayed together, so all the beads, spindle whorls, and other objects were on the same shelf with a card explaining the context and how the objects relate to each other. I have undone this a bit because the focus here is on textile tools. However, I will provide as much information as possible so that you will be able to do further research if you wish.
Spindle Whorls and Weaving Weights
Spindle whorls and Spindles (Conocchie)
Representations of the Textile Industry
This object, a Tintinnabulo, described as a ritual pendent was part of a lavish burial in Tomb 5 of dell’Arsenale Militare (700-675 BC, Villanovan III) and depicts the steps in wool processing. Drawings show the engravings that are on the front and reverse of the tintinnabulo. More about the tintinnabulo and the burial can be found here.
Textile tools in the The Civic Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Modena
Textile tools in the The Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Reggio Emilia is a small city to the northwest of Modena, along the via Emilia heading towards Milan. Like Modena the exhibits are chronological and just about everything is on display. It’s interesting to note the similarities and difference between the textile tools given how close Bologna, Modena, and Reggio Emilia are.
Textile tools in the The National Archaeological Museum in Naples
Museum Website (in Italian, the English version doesn’t appear to be working)
Historical Museum, Oslo
Museum website (in English)
The Viking Ship Museum
Museum website (in English)
The textiles and tools come from the Oseberg boat burial. The boat was built in AD 820 and was in use until AD 834 when it was used for the burial of two women. The burial includes two chests that contain textiles woven from linen and wool, tapestries, and textile tools including a swift, distaffs, weaving tablets, shears, and looms. Raw materials, such as bundles of unspun flax were also a part of the goods interred with the women.
Unlike Italian museums, the ones in the UK display only their finest examples with much of the collection in storage. The museums here are arranged by city, roughly from north to south.
Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum, South Shields
Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths & Museum, Wallsend
Hancock Museum, Newcastle
Bede’s World, Jarrow
Museum of Archaeology, Durham
Wiltshire Museum, Devizes
The Museum of Somerset, Taunton
The Meare Lake Villages near Taunton was a major craft manufacturing site during the Iron Age in Britain (800 BC – AD 100) and more bone combs were found there than in the rest of Britain combined. It would be interesting to find if anyone has done a study to see if other bone combs in Britain and neighbouring regions can be traced back to Meare or Somerset. The combs are distinctive and carved from whalebone.
Royal Albert Museum, Exeter
Ulster Museum, Belfast