Period: Eastern Mediterranean in the 4th to 2nd millennium


Programme title: Tools and Textiles - Texts and Contexts

A corporative project between CTR and Historical-Archaeological Experimental Centre, Lejre


Programme directors: Historian Dr. Marie-Louise Nosch (CTR) and archaeologist Dr. Eva B. Andersson (CTR)


Textile technicians: Archaeologist Linda Mårtensson (CTR) and craftsman/weaver Anne Batzer (HAF)




The Centre for Textile Research


The Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research (CTR) conducts research about textiles, their use and their production - from ancient time until today, as well as CTR organises conferences, seminaries and courses in textile history.


There are two main research programmes in the CTR, “Textile and Costume from Bronze and Early Iron Age in Danish collections” and “Tools and Textiles- Texts and Contexts”. The programmes are planned to run in 2005-2010.


The Centre for Textile Research works together with universities, museums and design schools. Lejre Historical-Archaeological Experimental Centre (HAF) is one of the central collaborators of CTR - participating in the research programme “Tools and Textiles –Texts and Contexts”.



Tools and Textiles - Texts and Contexts


The geographical framework of the programme is the Eastern Mediterranean in the 4th to 2nd millennium. The aim of the programme is to understand the parameters for the intensive and industrial-like production of textiles that developed during this time, as well as to investigate the economic and cultural impact of textiles and textile manufacture on the society of that time.


In the first stage of the programme, CTR - together with collaborators from approximately 30 sites- will compare different contexts of textile tools and textile manufacture. One way of doing this is by performing practical archaeological experiments using reconstructed tools.


A lot of the written records of that time and area present a complex terminology for textiles, tools and decorations. In the second stage of the programme, the written records will be investigated by specialists from various regions.


One of the additional aims of the research program is to develop textile experimental archaeology as a scientific method and to disseminate this new knowledge to the academic community in general.


As part of the programme, principles for the use of experimental archaeology with textile technology have been developed. The reason for developing those principles is a desire from CTR to make the results more reliable as well as clearer and easier to relate to. Therefore, it was essential from the beginning to decide which principles should be applied for the experiments.



CTR´s principles for textile experimental archaeology


• The primary parameter to be investigated is function

• Raw material, such as wool and flax, must be selected according to our knowledge of Bronze Age fibres and work processes

• Tools must be reconstructed as precise copies of archaeological artefacts

• All processes must be performed by at least two skilled craftspeople

• Every test should be preceded by some practice time

• All processes must be documented and described in writing, photographed and some filmed

• All processes must be analysed in their own right

• All products must be submitted to external experts on textile analysis


The development of the principles for experimental archaeology has been done in cooperation with Lejre Historical-Archaeological Experimental Centre.



The practical archaeological experiments so far


With reconstructed textile tools from the eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age, the primary question What are the functions of tools like spindle whorls and loom weights? can be investigated.


For the experiment, three different spindle whorls were made – weighing 4g, 8g and 18g respectively – and spinning tests with wool were conducted. The spinning tests were performed by two skilled craftsmen. Following the principles, all the processes have been documented and analysed by CTRs own team but also by external experts.

The spinning tests gave a significant result. The yarn spun with the three different weight classes of spindle whorls showed different qualities. The main differences are caused by the difference in weight rather than the difference between the techniques of the two craftsmen. The wool thread that was spun was also used in a warp weighted loom.

The 8 gram whorl was also used to spin flax fibres. The question is: What knowledge of the tools function can we get when spinning with flax. The test was also to weave with the linen thread in a warp weighted loom.


When weaving with the linen threads in a warp weighted loom, the linen thread from the two different spinners did not work well together, whereas using them separately they worked well. The greatest difference was found - not between the techniques of the two spinners - but between the fibres used.

Another part of the experimental archaeological aspects of the programme is to develop methods for testing the function of the loom weights. The aim is to investigate how the shape of the loom weights might affect the woven fabric.


With the archaeological experiments, the programme - “Tools and Textiles- Texts and Contexts” - has come up with new understandings of the functions of tools and their effect on the textiles. They have also confirmed knowledge that was already known from earlier research and experiments.