Cross-Post: Artisans in Ancient Greece
Francine Blondé (ed.), L’artisanat en Grèce ancienne: filières de production: bilans, méthodes et perspectives. Archaiologia. Villeneuve-d’Ascq; Athènes: Presses universitaires du Septentrion; École française d’Athènes, 2016. Pp. 420. ISBN 9782757414767. €48.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Mills McArthur, University of Chicago (email@example.com)
This collection of twenty papers (two in English, the rest in French) emerges from an October 2007 round table gathering organized by l’École française d’Athènes. The theme is craft production in ancient Greece, and the majority of papers focus on one of three subjects: textile production, metalwork, or ancient glass. But this statement somewhat understates the diverse scope of the book. We also encounter papers on basket making, alum production, and the spatial organization of craft activity. Geographically, we travel as far afield as Roman Gaul. Chronologically, the papers delve as early as the Mycenaean period and extend as late as the 19th century CE.
Above all, this volume will be of value for its contributions to the study of ancient textiles, a subject that has attracted much scholarly interest in recent years. One is happy to find Marie-Louise Nosch, a leading authority, among the contributors. Her paper (pp. 157-170) promotes the use of experimental archaeology, defending this form of knowledge from the occasional charges of amateurism. The process of reconstructing ancient garments, she maintains, has the potential to address a broad range of fundamental questions, such as the duration of time required in textile manufacturing, the different techniques employed, and the difficulties encountered during production. She underscores this point with an experiment of her own, in which two experienced spinners spun thread using replica Bronze Age spindle whorls of differing weights. The findings: a skilled worker could spin an average of 50 meters of thread per hour with an 18 g spindle whorl, compared to 40 m per hour with an 8 g whorl. The lighter whorl, however, producing a finer thread, required greater concentration on the part of the spinners, implying a greater degree of skill. For Nosch, these results are an argument for putting tools front and center in the analysis of textile production. The weight of spindle whorls provides a window into the nature of ancient textile production, shedding light on the skills of workers and the type of thread produced at a given site. But exploiting such evidence, she adds, requires adopting rigorous criteria for classifying the tools consistently.
Valérie Marion (pp. 145-156) echoes Nosch’s insistence on the need for greater methodological rigor in describing artifacts of textile production. Much like Nosch’s spindle whorls, Marion sees in loom weights objects of technical precision whose value as evidence is hampered by the lack of a standardized descriptive vocabulary to classify them. The most important point about these weights is their weight — and yet, Marion states, precisely this information is all too often lacking in published inventories. For her, loom weights present an opportunity to pose questions about regional variation, and to that end she offers a case study of two Greek colonies in Thrace: Argilos and Thasos. Despite their geographical and cultural proximity, the evidence of loom weights paints a markedly different picture of textile production in these two communities, as Marion illustrates by graphing the weights’ size distribution and morphology (p. 151). Loom weights, she hopes, will become a means for identifying different technical traditions of textile production across the Greek world.
Quite apart from the tools of the trade, textiles themselves are a source of information for their own production. Some may be surprised to learn just how many ancient Greek textile fragments have been discovered (though they come almost exclusively from funerary contexts). Christophe Moulherat and Youlie Spantidaki (pp. 119-144) present several such artifacts dating from the Bronze Age to the Roman period, the result of a collaboration between the Hellenic Center for Research and Conservation of Archaeological Textiles (ARTEX) and the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (C2RMF). The authors describe the fragments, add a few words about archaeological context, and provide details in tabular form about the fragments’ composition, as well as supplying a number of photographs. Especially striking is a fabric from Koropi in Attica that preserves the form of several embroidered lions.2
Across these papers, one gets the impression that a relentless attentiveness to seemingly mundane artifacts of textile production — spindle whorls, loom weights, textile fragments — has great potential to move beyond an understanding of the textile industry resting predominantly on textual and iconographic evidence. …
For the rest of the review, see http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2018/2018-01-20.html. If you want that linen embroidered with a diaper pattern (intersecting diagonal lines) it is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Museum Number T.220 to B-1953.
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