The Secret Of Thread - From Its Genesis to the Roman Period

ARACHNE AND ATHENA

There was in the city of Colophon a dyer in purple named Idmon who had a daughter named Arachne. She was a weaver of such talent and skill that people would come from far and wide to see her artistry. It was said that the goddess Athena herself had taught her the art. Fame and the adulation of people went to Arachne’s head and she was wont often to say contemptuously that Athena herself was no match for her in the art. Word of Arachne’s boasting quickly reached the goddess, who visited Arachne disguised as a hunched old woman to see for herself her skill as a weaver. Marvelling at her work the goddess admonished her to not fall prey to hubris and pride. Carried away, the girl rejected the old woman’s reproofs – Athena then revealed herself and told Arachne that she would now have to compete with her in weaving. Arachne, although alarmed, had no choice but to accept the challenge. The competition began, both weaving with great skill – the tapestries created under their fingers left everyone breathless. Athena wove a scene showing the proper human worship of the gods, while Arachne depicted the amorous exploits of Zeus. Although Athena could find no fault in Arachne’s tapestry, she was enraged by its impiety and tore the work to pieces. The despairing Arachne hung herself, but this did not satisfy Athena. From now to the end of time you and your posterity shall forever weave and know of nothing else, Athena told her, whereupon Arachne began to shrink to the size of a pea, her slender fingers transformed into eight slim legs. Arachne was turned into a spider and by the commandment of the goddess spiders hang from and weave their webs to this day.

THE SECRET OF THREAD 

From the emergence of humankind – along with nourishment and shelter – clothing, and thereby the manufacturing of garments, was one of man’s basic needs. The development of the fabrication of clothing runs parallel to the development of humanity itself. In the Old Stone Age (2 500 000 BCE to 10 000 BCE) man lived as a hunter. The first huntergatherers were in constant search of food, living periodically in caves and, according to anthropologists, fashioned their first clothing from various natural materials (the hides and furs of wild animals, leaves and grasses). The first clothes in the world appeared some 100 to 500 thousand years ago, with the actual technique of the fabrication of the first garments consisting of drying pieces pelt, punching the ends of pelt with a sharp flint or bone tool and drawing ribbons or strips of tree bark through these holes. Among the archaeological finds from the Upper Palaeolithic (from about 40 000 BCE to 10 000 BCE) we see, along with various flint tools, the first pins (with and without eyes). Humans begin to follow a sedentary life during the New Stone Age (Neolithic, 6 500 to 4 000 BCE). With the development of animal husbandry and agriculture man invented weaving (the process of fabricating flat textile of at least two distinct sets of yarns or threads), thus creating the first fabrics. The fleece of sheep and goats became suitable for spinning and weaving only once the process of taming these animals had produced certain mutations, and the growing and cultivation of certain plant species and their further processing prompted humans to create fabrics of various materials. Spinning and weaving are considered some of the oldest crafts and have seen a long history of development. Among the oldest fibres used to make fabrics are those from animal wool, flax, hemp and weaver’s broom. The oldest known fabric, made of coarse flax, was found in Egypt’s Faiyum region and originates from the Neolithic period (it is over 5 000 years old). The oldest and simplest manual method of spinning (the process of twisting fibres lengthwise around an axis to convert them into yarn for weaving, knitting and other uses) employs the distaff (a wooden tool on which the fibres dressed for spinning were secured). In the Iron Age weaving was a task assumed by women, to which numerous figural depictions in situla art bear witness. Certainly among the most significant such depictions are those found on a tintinnabulum from Bologna, a depiction of weaving carved into a wooden throne from Verucchio, and the depiction incised on a vessel from Sopron.

THE ISTRIAN THREAD FROM ITS GENESIS TO THE ROMAN PERIOD

The remains of various flint tools and bone artefacts (pins, awls, hooks and the like) have been found in Istria from the Old and New Stone Ages and show that the local population knew the art of making and employing thread for various purposes. To date the oldest archaeological finds that bear witness to the use of looms and spindles on the Istrian peninsula were found in Copper Age layers. We see a proliferation of the use of looms on the Istrian peninsula at numerous Bronze and Iron Age sites. Archaeological finds have been discovered that testify that among the Histri thread had a very important role in everyday life. Certainly the most common finds that testify to the use of looms and distaffs and spindles are sherds of decorated and undecorated ceramic and bone whorls used as a weight on spindles, as weights on looms, as bobbins onto which thread was wound and for similar purposes.

Discovered along with spindle whorls are numerous finds of pins – their appearance and use in Iron Age Istria has seen a complex development. The range of shapes and sizes varies from the very simple bone and bronze pins to those with richly decorated heads and shafts. It is hypothesised that the more richly ornamented pins were used for decorative purposes.

THREAD AND ADORNMENT AMONG THE HISTRI

That thread played a significant role in clothing, decorating and in general in the life of the Histri is borne out by finds of decorative artefacts that had both a functional and a decorative role. Thus we see numerous finds of glass, bone or amber beads that were most likely bound with metal wire or with thread. We also see richly decorated artefacts that were sewn onto garments and enriched the appearance of the fabric. Numerous fibulae have been discovered at Istrian Iron Age sites that are richly decorated with amber and bone beads – their size and the opulence of their ornamentation indicate the dual role of a decorative object and a symbol of status. Along with the fibula the Histri also used buttons, borne out by the find of a bone button decorated with small punctate circles. The button was found in the course of excavations in 2015 at the foundations of the building of the Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula, and constitutes a unique Iron Age find of this type in Istria.

THREAD IN THE HISTRIAN AFTERLIFE

The processing of thread and the fabrication of textile played a significant role in the Histrian afterlife as is borne out by artefacts found in grave contexts. These are finds we can associate with tools used in the manufacture of fabrics. Thus in Istria we have finds from Iron Age graves of pectiform (comb-shaped) bronze pendants, representative of the reed combs used in weaving when pushing down the rows of weft yarn. These pendants are made of thin bronze plates of semi-circular, five-sided or triangular form, with a toothed indentation of the longest edge and a perforation by which they are hung. They are often decorated with engraved rows of crosshatched triangles, small punched circles or hammered dots. This phenomenon is dated to the eighth century BCE and continues on the Bronze Age tradition by which bone combs were laid in the graves of women in the twelfth and eleventh centuries BCE. A bone artefact (Inv. No. P-43783) was found along with pectiform pendants in grave 121 at the Pula necropolis site that likely stands as a symbol of the skill of the deceased as a weaver.

As with Arachne from the beginning of our tale, people have always had the need to create thread. Their intertwining creates networks that connect various aspects of life. They connect basic human needs and art, the past and present, and create a foundation for the future… Threads disappear, largely due to the passage of time, but we are left with artefacts associated with thread. The objects presented at the exhibition tell our story of the SECRETS OF THREAD.

Catalogue

1. Worked animal bone. Bone weaving tool.

Site: Pula necropolis (grave 121)

Date: Iron

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-43783

Material(s): bone

Dimensions: 12,5 x 2,5 x 1,26 cm

Weight: 17 g

2. Pectiform bronze pendant, trapezoidal shape decorated with small punched circles.

Site: Picugi I (grave 6)

Date: Iron Age

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-2212

Material(s): bronze

Dimensions: 4,34 x 4,47 x 0,12 cm

Weight: 12 g

3. Bone button decorated with an irregular distribution of small punctate circles.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: Iron Age  

Location (collection):Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53671

Material(s): bone

Dimensions: diameter 4.64 cm, thickness 0.83 cm T

Weight: 17 g

4. Bronze pin with mushroom-shaped head decorated with a series of incisions forming three concentric circles.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: 12th cent. BCE

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53672

Material(s): bronze

Dimensions: 2,72 x 2,3 x 0,54 cm

Weight: 5 g

5. Bronze multi-head pin.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: 8th cent. BCE

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53673

Material(s): bronze

Dimensions: diameter 0.44, height 5.53 cm

Weight: 3 g

6. Bronze fibula of the middle La Tène type.

Site:AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: late 2nd and early 1st cent. BCE

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53674

Material(s): bronze

Dimensions: 7,6 x 2,1 x 0,7 cm

Weight: 9 g

7.Bone pin with square head.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: 8th cent. BCE

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53676

Material(s): bone

Dimensions: 6,2  x 1,3 x 0,4 cm T

Weight: 2,9 g

8. Bone pin with pentangular head.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: 8th cent. BCE

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53677

Material(s): bone

Dimensions: 11,18 x 1,9 x 0,28 cm

Weight: 4 g

9. Oar-shaped bone pin.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: 8th cent. BCE

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53678

Material(s): bone

Dimensions: 7,73 x 1,17 x 0,6 cm

Weight: 3 g

10. Bone pins.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: Copper Age – Iron Age

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53679, P-53680, P-53681

Material(s): bone

Dimensions: (1) 6,95 x 0,33 cm (2) 5,6 cm x 0,37 cm (3) 5,48 x 0,45 cm

Weight: (1) 1 g, (2) 1,28g, (3) 1,36 g

11. Ceramic spindle whorl decorated with fluting.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: Iron Age Mjesto čuvanja

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53682

Material(s): ceramic

Dimensions: height 2.52 cm, diameter 4.35 cm  

Weight: 31 g

12.Ceramic spindle whorl decorated with fluting.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: Iron Age

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53683

Material(s): ceramic

Dimensions: height 1.44 cm, diameter 2.96 cm

Weight: 6 g

13. Bone spindle whorl.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: Iron Age 

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53684

Material(s): bone

Dimensions: height 1.33 cm, diameter 4.05 cm

Weight: 10 g

14. Ceramic spindle whorl.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: Iron Age

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53686

Material(s): ceramic

Dimensions: height 2.28 cm, diameter 4.5 cm T

Weight: 26 g

15. Ceramic spindle whorl.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: Iron Age

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53687  

Material(s): ceramic

Dimensions: height 1.44 cm, diameter 3.58 cm

Weight: 9 g

16. Bronze pin.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: Iron Age

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53688

Material(s): bronze

Dimensions: 7,4 x 0,4 x 0,22 cm 

Weight: 2 g

17.Glass bead, blue.

Site: AMI BUILDING 2015 - Pula

Date: Iron Age

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Inv. no.: P-53685

Material(s): glass

Dimensions: height 1 cm, diameter 1.36 cm

Weight: 0,28 g

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THE SECRET OF THREAD: From Its Genesis to the Roman Period

Exhibition: Carrarina ul. 4, Pula, Window to the Past 13.04. - 16.05.2017. Exhibition and text author: Maja Čuka

Organizer and publisher: Archaeological Museum of Istria

For the organizer and publisher: Darko Komšo

Editorial Board: Darko Komšo, Adriana Gri Štorga, Katarina Zenzerović

Set up & graphic design: Vjeran Juhas

Photographer Tanja Draškić Savić

Technical set up of the exhibition: Andrea Sardoz

Translation in Italian: Elis Barbalich-Geromella

English translation: Neven Ferenčić

Proofs: Adriana Gri Štorga, Milena Špigić, Katarina Zenzerović

Print: MPS Pula

No. of copies: 700

Pula, 2017.

© Arheološki muzej Istre 2010. Proizvodnja Ulisys d.o.o. Bazirano na Typo3 CMS sustavu.