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EgYarn. Unravelling the thread: textile production in New Kingdom Egypt (Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant)

The EGYARN project proposes an innovative view of the textile production of New Kingdom Egypt, especially in the Theban area where several sites around the capital have yielded exceptionally rich archaeological evidence. 

Project led by Chiara Spinazzi

The goal of the EGYARN project is to understand how the main non-domestic textile production centres of the New Kingdom Theban area were connected with other institutions and private workers. In addition, by means of careful comparative study of material from sites such as Gurob and Deir el-Medina, social contexts and economic aspects linked to the production of textiles will be investigated. The project will create a comprehensive and up-to-date information plateform, exploring the details of New Kingdom textile traditions and positioning them within the Late Bronze Age production landscape, extending from the Mediterranean basin to the southern reaches of Nilotic Africa. 

To understand how the textiles were produced, which tools were used, and by whom, for whom, and why the textiles were made will require an interdisciplinary approach which will provide a new perspective on New Kingdom social and economic organisation. More specifically, the objectives include:

  • Revising the textile chaîne opératoire, with a detailed analysis of flax procurement and preparation;
  • Investigation of the threads and textiles produced using experimental archaeology;
  • Understanding the wood craftsmanship of spindles and whorls;
  • Identifying the main actors in textile manufacture: how domestic and non-domestic production interacted;
  • Providing an understanding of the place of the New Kingdom textile tradition in Mediterranean and African Late Bronze Age landscape;
  • Defining the ancient Egyptian textile workshop;
  • Building a European collections database of New Kingdom tools and textiles stored in European museums. 

Combining results from archaeological and textual sources will reveal the organisation of the textile industry. Textual sources can shed light on who produced threads and textiles (men, women or both), their social status, and for whom their production was intended (e.g. their own family, local market or temples). The organisation of flax cultivation, the main fibre in the ancient Egyptian textile industry, may help us to understand how fibre procurement occurred. Study of textiles, tools and archaeological contexts will provide information about domestic and large-scale production and contribute towards answering the following questions: what differences were there between domestic and non-domestic production? Were textile tools the same in domestic and non-domestic contexts? The aim of this research is to understand how textile production was integrated into the Egyptian urban landscape, both within an individual settlement as well as on a broader regional scale.

 Analysis of wooden tools from the New Kingdom

During the New Kingdom, spindles and whorls were mainly made of wood but little is known of the types and sources of wood used and how they were made. Analyses of wooden spindles from Kahun, Amarna and Deir el-Medina (kept in the Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy) have shown that a mixture of local and non-local wood was in use, helping us to better understand natural resources availability. Analyses of wooden spindles from Deir el-Medina, currently stored at the IFAO in Cairo, have confirmed this diverse wood supplies and are showing a consistent trend in choosing specific types of wood for each part of the tool. In addition, the systematic study of the wooden objects from Thebes will allow us to identify other objects possibly related to textile production.

Finally, two spindles (one from Gurob and the other from Deir el-Medina) will be reconstructed to test their properties in spinning and to understand the types of threads that each tool could produce. To ensure that the reconstruction is as close to the original as possible, the type(s) of wood used for the original objects will need to be determined.