2nd Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Susanna Harris

From the 2nd Experimental Archaeology Conference, Exeter, 2007.

Experiencing the materiality of prehistoric cloth types

Dr Susanna Harris,

University College, Archaeology Institute, London, England
On the rare occasions when we encounter prehistoric cloth, the preserved remains are usually fragmentary and decayed, therefore no longer retaining their original qualities.   However, the materiality of cloth, including its structure and surfaces, and sensual properties such as colour, smell, flexibility and texture are integral to the understanding of these artefacts as part of past human engagement.  To investigate this subject, I have conducted experiments to explore the materiality of prehistoric cloth as sensory experience.   The focus of this work is the prehistoric cloth types known from the Neolithic to Bronze Age in the Alpine region, including cloth made from flax, wool, tree bast and animal skins, as well as, woven and twined cloth, netting, knotless netting, skins and furs.   The first stage of the experiment was to obtain a range of cloth types that resembled prehistoric examples as closely as possible.   In some cases antique materials or modern examples of similar cloth types were used.  For cloth types that are no longer produced, these were made especially for the experiment, or were sourced from earlier experimental work.   The second stage of the experiment involved asking study participants to handle each of the cloth types, then to compare the different cloth types and to describe their experience.  In this paper I discuss the source and choice of the cloth types used in the experiment, the method and results of the handling experience and the contribution of this experiment to understanding prehistoric cloth types.

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