Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Warp-Weighted Loom Update #1: Finding the Sources

I'm not going for accuracy here, I just want to get a really good idea of what I'm doing with this warp weighted loom project. But it's good to talk briefly about the sources. I've read other blogs which have attempted such projects (though, they were going for more than just accuracy since most of them already have mad weaving skills), and they post their progress just like I'm about to do. However, most of the time at least, they list no sources for their information. No, I'm not the bibliography police--I'm just curious which sources they used so that I can use them. No need to reinvent the wheel here.

So that got me thinking: Why don't I list a bibliography here so others can find out about the information I used? And further, I can offer my reasoning for using/not using certain sources (probably in a future update when I have a good working bibliography). Plus, it'll keep me on track. And motivated. It isn't hyper critical for me to get everything "right" on the first try, but it's good to start out with a basic idea.

First, let's talk about the archaeological record. Finding well-preserved textiles which can tell us something about the craft, decoration, use, dye, and components (like wool/plant/metallic/etc.) are rare, so when they are found, papers are written about them. The biggest problem facing archaeologists who want to study ancient textiles (besides the problem of rarity) is the context. To determine the context, you often need to destroy the artifact. Great, but what do I mean by "context?"

In simple terms, I'm talking about all of the other stuff you can determine by examining something. For example, if you look at the dyes used on a textile from a specific site, the dye can tell you something about the dyeing technology, importation of dyes (or dyed items), and regional use of certain dyestuffs. If you're looking at a textile which has been dyed with dyestuffs found locally and in abundance, the archaeologists can make inferences about that site. The archaeologist can use this information to begin forming the context of a site, usually with the help of other types of artifacts and features (features are things like walls and houses). Let's say that there is just one family-sized house and adult sheep bones found in refuse pits to add to our example.

Given this information, the archaeologist begins to paint a picture of a small farmstead where people were raising sheep for subsistence (ie, just enough to support a family with very little surplus possibilities) and using the local flora to add flair to their textiles. This is essential for archaeologists to get a rounded view of the people who lived here before, and to prevent contextual biases like those frequently made in the 19th century. Unfortunately, in order to do this, archaeologists often need to destroy the textile to extract the information needed.

There are some ways to determine dyestuffs and fiber type without destroying the artifact, that's true, but the accuracy decreases and it won't account for surface changes (ie, the presence of dirt, abrasions, etc.). During the experimentation process of my master's dissertation, I used visible spectrophotometry to determine absorption curves of one dyestuff (cochineal) with various mordants (the substance that binds the dye to the fiber). The point of that sentence is to tell you that even though I used only one type of dyestuff, the absorption curves were different given different mordants. Thus, this isn't a reliable method for determining dyestuffs.

Destructive methods are generally employed to determine the exact (or nearly so) dye used, and possibly its origin (in the case of several species within the same genera), to understand how people led their lives in prehistory. This discussion of dyes is just one aspect that archaeologists investigate, and it isn't the only investigation which requires destruction of the sample to obtain vital information.

So let's bring this all together. Textiles are rare. Archaeologists tend to preserve as much of the artifact as possible for future study (and conservation) while doing their research. The study of ancient textiles is often destructive, which leads to textile research being understudied. As a result, not much information exists about textiles in specific regions/time periods. In the end, archaeologists don't use textile information regularly to help determine context of archaeological sites. Textile research may not be crucial for understanding and interpreting most archaeological sites, but it adds a dimension to the daily lives of these people we don't know much about, and finally, isn't it all about rebuilding a picture of the past through excavation?

Okay, don't get ahead of yourself; here's what I'll do. What I am able to find I will document here on this blog. The articles and websites I list will be pertinent to hobby weavers, spinners, and dyers, and extremely useful for those out there who are like me in wanting to reproduce archaically woven textiles.

Also, I'm sorry I wasn't so brief. There's a lot to say about this project. In the next update, I'll continue on with finding sources for wool and loom building (and I'll definitely post more pictures). Thanks for reading!

Current Bibliography:

Andresen, S. T., & Karg, S. (2011). Retting pits for textile fibre plants at Danish prehistoric sites dated between 800 bc and ad 1050. Vegetation history and archaeobotany, 20(6), 517-526.

Joosten, I., van Bommel, M. R., Hofmann-de Keijzer, R., & Reschreiter, H. (2006). Micro analysis on Hallstatt textiles: colour and condition. Microchimica Acta, 155(1-2), 169-174.

Rast-Eicher, A., & Bender Jørgensen, L. (2012). Sheep wool in Bronze Age and Iron Age Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science.

Ryder, M. L. (1987). The evolution of the fleece. Scientific American, 256(1), 112-119.

Strand, E. A., Frei, K. M., Gleba, M., Mannering, U., Nosch, M. L., & Skals, I. (2010). Old Textiles—New Possibilities. European journal of archaeology, 13(2), 149-173.

Vanden Berghe, I., Gleba, M., & Mannering, U. (2009). Towards the identification of dyestuffs in Early Iron Age Scandinavian peat bog textiles. Journal of Archaeological Science, 36(9), 1910-1921.