Skip to main content

West and East: Textile technologies and identities in the 1st millennium B.C. South Italy and Cyprus

Final Report Summary - DIASPORA (West and East: Textile technologies and identities in the 1st millennium B.C. South Italy and Cyprus)

West and East:
Textile technologies and identities in the 1st millennium B.C. South Italy and Cyprus
FP7-PEOPLE-2011-IEF Proposal No 298974

Final report

The aim of the project has been to explore textile tool technologies, identities and the socio-cultural dynamics in settler and indigenous cultural contexts in South Italy and Cyprus in the Iron Age/Archaic period, roughly the 8th–5th centuries BCE. These two geographical areas were both subject to large-scale Greek and, as regards Cyprus and Sicily, also to Phoenician influx. As the project progressed the emphasis was redirected to focus on the archaeological sites of Monte Iato, Segesta and Mozia in West Sicily and San Vito dei Normanni and Cavallino in Apulia as these provided abundant material. During the project more than a thousand loom weights were documented. A highlight of the documentation was the discovery at Segesta of an inscribed loom weight with an important inscription to be published in the context of an interdisciplinary effort. Documentation also included select material from the site of Idalion, Cyprus and future research will compare the similarities and dissimilarities involved.

Textiles in the ancient world, as in today’s world, were of utmost importance for clothing, furnishings, for sacks, as storage and carrying devices, and for sailcloth. The socio-economic impact of the trade in textiles and the use in gift exchange in the ancient world was profound. Few textiles are preserved in the archaeological record since optimal environmental conditions are the prerequisite for such preservation. Nevertheless, the recovered tools used to produce them, can provide a wealth of information. The project has thus looked at the technological parameters of textile tools with a focus on a particular type of textile tool, the loom weight, used on the warp-weighted loom to provide the correct tension for optimal weaving.

The project has profited from the methodology in experimental archaeology developed by scholars at the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research (CTR), at the university of Copenhagen, in collaboration with craftspeople at the Sagnlandet-Land of Legends, Lejre archaeological experimental centre in Denmark. The methodology developed there has thus been applied to the loom weights under examination. From the textile implements used such as loom weights and spindle whorls, it is now possible to calculate within a range the type of fabrics that were produced at given archaeological sites. Replicas of select textile implements were manufactured by the fellow at the Lejre Centre and tested (Fig. 1). One important result of the project is the conclusion that fine and very fine textile fabrics were manufactured at the sites studied.

A novel theoretical approach used in the project was the use of phenomenology as an analytical framework applied to this kind of archaeological material. It is an approach that positions the researcher as an active participant in an analytical process in which artefacts are seen as expressions of past ‘life-worlds’ transcending the user and maker behind them. The major result of the analysis of the examined loom weights at the chosen sites is that the loom weights, as cultural agents, are definite identity markers. As such, they are the expression of local traditions, rather than ethnically defined as Greek/Phoenician or indigenous. These artefacts are hybrids of a kind, mirroring the cultural settings they were a part of. Intriguingly, the loom weights despite portraying similar technical parameters portray the essence of what is unique at each site.

The importance of cultural heritage has also been an important component throughout the project. Contacts with weaving co-operatives in the regions of Calabria and Apulia have furthered the fellow’s knowledge in the multi-faceted weaving traditions in these areas, resulting in the dissemination at an international workshop of a little known plant fibre, Spanish Broom, Spartium Junceum, traditionally used in textile manufacture in Calabria. The fellow also attended an international conference organized by CTR, on Cultural Heritage in Amman, Jordan, conducive to future collaborative efforts within the field.

Career development and training initiatives included the co-organization of an international conference on Shellfish purple dye and sea-silk in antiquity as well as subsequent editorial commitment with the forthcoming publication of the proceedings. Courses in weave and dyeing techniques and fibre identification were undertaken at the Textile Research Centre at Leiden, Netherlands and at Sagnlandet Lejre, Denmark.

The results of the project disseminated in several articles, will be of considerable importance not only to archaeologists, historians and textile specialists but also to the fields of anthropology, ancient epigraphy, cultural heritage, conservation and museum curating.