Thursday, May 20, 2004

Ancient Moabite fort provides insight into history of weaving

"A recent discovery of a cache of clay loom weights at Khirbat al-Mudaybi in Central Jordan is shedding new light on ancient textile crafts and industries.

The excavation team was surprised to discover a weaving installation in the fort's domestic quarter. Here, at least 68 small, perforated clay loom weights were concentrated in the northwest corner of one of the rooms. Each weight was hand-molded from local clay into a round or cylindrical shape, ranging from 32 millimeters to 61 millimeters in height, 48mm to 86mm in width, and weighed from 70 to 437 grams. Multiple threads could be strung through a perforation in each weight, and multiple weights may have been needed for each group of warp - or vertical - threads to provide the necessary tension for weaving. This tension allowed the weaver to integrate weft - the horizontal thread - and warp.

The Mudaybi loom weights were used on a vertical warp-weighted loom that was suspended from a wood stand or hung from the ceiling. Wool fibers spun into long threads were tied to a beam at the top of the loom. Since the excess could be tied off at the bottom of the loom, threads could be of any length. Textile woven on a vertical loom could be almost any length, since more thread could be tied on at the end of each run. The only limit was the amount of textile that could be rolled onto the beam at the top of the loom. The Mudaybi team suspects these looms were portable and could be easily moved from place to place. Unfortunately, neither evidence of a loom nor any weaving tools have been excavated in the fort. A senior researcher from the Institute of Archaeology, Andrews University, observed, "the discovery of so many loom weights makes me wonder if perhaps carpets or tents were being produced in this location by a family or specialized craftsman."