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Textile archaeology

Warp-weighted loom. Drawn by Rich Potter

Warp-weighted loom. Drawn by Rich Potter

Loom weight

Loom weight

Textile archaeology involves the study of actual remains of textiles as well as traces of their production. Textiles rarely survive complete, but in special conditions — e.g. ice, certain wet conditions or in salt (salt mines), or in extremely dry environments — textiles can survive remarkably well. For the most part, we have to rely on other types of archaeological material to understand prehistoric textiles and textile production.

Many kinds of archaeological source materials can be used to shed light on textile production. The presence of sheep and their slaughter age can be an indication that wool production has been important. Archaeobotanical data can indicate if linen or hemp textiles were produced. It can also show if there are traces of plants that historically have been used for dying textiles. Tools are one of the most important indicators that textile production has occurred at a site. However, textile tools were sometimes made from organic materials, so may leave few, if any, archaeological traces. Luckily, many textile tools also contain inorganic parts. Spindles often have a spindle whorl made of clay (burnt), while upright looms may have inorganic loom-weights.

Spindle whorl

Spindle whorl

At the site of Százhalombatta, textile tools in the form of spindle whorls and loom weights have been found from both Bronze Age and Early Iron Age layers. Sheep bones have also been analysed, and these indicate that sheep were kept for their wool starting around 2000 BC. It is therefore evident that textile related production, be it the raw material wool or the finished product, was important at the settlement.