“Weaving Stories: Reconstructing the Manufacture, Uses and Discarding of Textiles and Cloth in Early Medieval Ireland and Beyond, AD 500-1100”
A new post-it’s been a while! That big, beautiful title, above, is my official thesis title and I started my IRC (Irish Research Council) funded research this September 2018. And, with tongue in cheek, I have adopted a working title “Game of Threads” it, just so, happens to fit very nicely!
The serious work, however, is the need to select and begin the integration of a theoretical framework in order to start, research and make sense of the above title. As this process started, I thought, constantly, of many little motivational sound bites. But the real motivation, guidance and steady advice came from my fortnightly supervisory meetings and from my fellow PhD students who welcomed me into their workspace in a warm, collegiate manner. All guaranteed to stop me disappearing through and into……………
As archaeologists, we tell the story of our past through physical pieces and places and we recorded the data in different forms, one of these is through quantitative methods. A relatively new tool to assist in the analysis and presentation of this method is the R open source programming language.
R manages and analyses data and has wide graphical and statistical capabilities and the word ‘open’ makes this an extensive and, continually, expanding, recording and analytical tool. For those of you who are interested in more details- https://www.r-project.org/. And for archaeology, specifically, see Quantitative Methods in Archaeology Using R-David L. Carlson. Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. This manual is divided into sections or tutorials showing the route to compute descriptive statistics, tables, charts and graphs, to data transformation, confidence intervals and hypothesis testing. I came across the use of R in archaeology in early 2018 and intend to integrate it into my textile research.
In order to assist me with this goal, I chose as part of my structured PhD a learning master module on ‘Quantitative Data Analysis using R’ (QDA using R). At this stage, let give you some background to my past relationship with figures, graphs, theorems, geometry and that mysterious couple, x and y that make guest appearances amongst numbers!!! I sat my Irish Leaving Certificate exam in 1980 and my maths grade was a fail, my poor parents had arranged extra tuition and I did try, really, I did but to no avail!!! Now, fast forward to September 2018 and with screaming memories in my head, I sat in a two-hour lecture and lab slot for QDA using R, for twelve weeks. Yes, I was challenged but I attended all lectures and workshops, asked questions, sought help and applied myself to the learning process of QDA. Results are due at the end of the month, but I think I have a C grade. Reflecting on this grade, I, now, have a platform to work from, I know, I can use and improve on this application in my research. Note to a very confused 1980s Leaving Cert student, you can do it and you did it!!!
Learning through doing and shared learning is a process that I was lucky enough to be part of in my first semester as a PhD student, my previous post ‘Textiles and Tales’ provides the details of that interdisciplinary opportunity. Currently, I am working on another style of an interactive workshop for ‘Early Ireland: continuity and change’ for the School of Irish, Folklore and Celtic Studies, UCD.
A far scary teaching opportunity was given to me by my supervisor for early November-leading a seminar in the MSc in Experimental Archaeology and Material. That syndrome of feeling like an imposter was raising its head but this time, that 1980s student, me, asked the 2018 student, me, ‘what is this syndrome?’ ah, the confidence to try anything in your youth!! So, bearing that in mind, I have included below my seminar outline:
Textiles Seminar – thinking and testing perishable materials by replication, ways of accessing knowledge and insights through experimental archaeology
Part One: A Textile from Deer Park Farm: Exploring cloth production. Tuesday 6th Nov-10.00-11.00am
- Preparing wool for spinning.
Part Two: A Textile from Deer Park Farm: Exploring cloth production. Wednesday 7th Nov-12.00-2.00 pm
- Warping the loom.
The topic for this two-part seminar is an introduction to a particular textile from Deer Park Farm, Co Antrim. A small group of textiles were excavated from the Rath Period Phase Two and Phase Six deposits. The textile group consisted of seven pieces, three wool and four, possible plant fibre, fragments. Our focus for these two seminars is on the fragment labelled:
F2062-What is F2062?
- A tabby wool cloth with a pronounced ribbed effect. Divided into five, further, fragments
- Excavated from the Rath Period Phase Six, Structure X, the northern bedding area. Comprising of fragment measurements: 6.5cm x 3.00cm, 15.5 cm x 8.2 cm, 4.4 cm x 4.6 cm, 7.0 cm x 6.0 cm, 5.0 cm x 6.0 cm.
- All coloured very dark grey and very dark brown 10YR 2/2.
Over the course of the next hour, the objective is to prepare the wool by cleaning through the fibres and removing any debris. The next stage is to comb the wool in order to organise the fibres, in much the same fashion, as hair is combed. After this combing stage, the wool is termed worsted wool, it appears as strong, smooth and straight fibres ready for spinning. Finally, we will hand spin the wool using the spindles provided in order to move towards part two of the seminar, the replication of F2062.
As we are experiencing this raw resource, we can ask ourselves – What are the possible research questions? I have provided some contextual details below to assist in formulating questions.
The sheep of Deer Park Farm.
Few keds (parasites that live in sheep wool) were identified at Deer Park Farm. This absence is suggestive that the sheep were shorn, and the fleeces cleaned off-site or sheep were rooed (the plucking of wool by hand directly from the animal), this follows the sheep’s natural moulting cycle. The estimated wool yield for Early Medieval sheep is 1.5 kg which equates to thirty 50g balls of wool in modern standards.
Textile tools of Deer Park Farm.
- Spindle whorls of both stone and wood were recovered across the occupation dates at the site.
- Bone pin beaters were found in the Rath Period deposits.
- A leather tablet with four holes may indicate tablet weaving.
- Bone combs for combing the wool fibres.
- One iron needle.
- A bone distaff (to organise fibres while spinning) also a possible bone needle.
F2062 is a fragment of wool cloth produced in a tabby or plain weave. The yarn used to weave this cloth was spun in the Z or clockwise direction and plied in the opposite direction with the final outcome-S spun thread.
F2062 had no evidence of selvedge (the edges of the cloth). Hence, it is not possible to, definitively, distinguish the warp from the weft in the weaving system unless under a microscope or to estimate the size of the loom used.
However, the tight spin of one set of threads may indicate that these were the warp threads (warp threads tend to be more tightly spun to give strength under tension on a loom).
The other set of threads are less firmly spun and of a thicker yarn (diameter c.1.25mm) with 16 threads to the cm. These are the threads that we will aim to spin today.
Part Two: The Textiles of Deer Park Farm: Exploring cloth production.
- Warping the loom.
F2062 is a style of plain weave described as ribbed weave also called a repp (transverse ribbed surface) plain weave. These surface ribs/textures are created by the differing densities of weft threads and by the action of packing these threads up tight against the previous ones.
F2062 in the wider context: the production of tabby or plain increased in NW Europe (c.5th-8th century) with 54% of the textiles found in Scandinavian graves of tabby weave system including a small amount of this ribbed style. The ribbed tabby style of cloth also appeared in the graves from the Merovingian period (c.5th-8th century AD) Western Europe pointing to wide geographical distribution. Anne Stine Ingstad’s 1988 work on Scandinavian grave textiles (c. 10th century) saw these ribbed or repp cloths as imports and groups the style with the Lagore crannog finds. Ingstad had accepted the later date of the 10th century for the Lagore Crannog, Ratoath, Co Meath (the most directly comparable with the Deer Park finds although of a finer quality) whereas now it seems the date is the 7th century-
“this type of tabby with repp effect is not a common find in Norwegian finds of the 10th century and when they do occur it is in the context of a richly furnished burial often with imports”
The textile is still on the loom so, to be continued………………
Another different style of learning came my way at the end of November 2018 with an invitation to demonstrate and present the archaeological perspective at an inaugural conference in Trinity College, Dublin entitled ‘Trinity HistoryCon’. The theme of the conference was the celebration of history across popular media from stage, comics, film, television and the internet. I chose comics and my focus was the use of the three Norns from Norse mythology by Stan Lee in his 1964 comic #102 Journey into Mystery. Those wise women served to show-case textiles and the textile technology, as central to life and to living, both functional and symbolic.
I also took the opportunity of tweeting throughout the conference, dissemination!!
Some links to read a little more about this excellent and innovative conference.
Speaking of invitations………….another email came to me, asking would I contribute to ‘Gorey 400’ a planned publication that is hoped will become a landmark in this year’s 400 years of town charter commemoration to Gorey, Co. Wexford, Ireland. Some background details:
and progress to date:
My contribution is based on the historical archaeology of the Palatines of North Wexford in the 18th century and I am sure I can find textiles somewhere in there!!! I will blog regular updates on this writing assignment over the month of January.
The final outreach activity that I designed for 2018 was a daily tweetathon, started on December 1st till 31st December. All tweets had continuity in the hashtags used, one, two or three images were used, and all tweets had an Early Medieval textile winter/religious theme with a geographical spread from Ireland, Britain, Germany, and France.
For September to 1st December my tweet impressions numbered 63,900, I had engaged regularly over those three months but not daily and not always with original tweets. The results for my December tweetathon 1-31st numbered 83,400 impressions, I calculated the mean for Sept-Nov 2018, and the result on percentage increase was 291% and the follower base increased too impressive impressions!!
In summary to the first months as a PhD student, a lot achieved but my priority is to nail down, a conceptual framework from which to craft a theoretical framework and start a robust literature review…………..watch this space.
|Wincott Heckett, E. (2011) ‘The Textiles’, in Lynn, C.J and McDowell, J.A. (eds) in Deer Park Farm. The excavations of a raised rath in the Glenarm Valley, Co. Antrim. Norwich: Stationery Office,354-366.|
|Bender Jorgensen, L. (2013) ‘Spinning faith’ in Stig Sorensen, M-L. et al. (eds) Embodied Knowledge Historical Perspectives on Belief and Technology. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp.128-136.|
|Von Holstein, I. et al.,(2016).‘Provenancing Archaeological Wool Textiles from Medieval Northern Europe by Light Stable Isotope Analysis (δ13C, δ15N, δ2 H)’, PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0162330 October 20, 2016. pp 1-28.|