Date of this Version
From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).
This paper has as its subject the narrow woven horsehair band from Cromaghs, Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland It is about two thousand eight hundred years old which places it in the Irish Later Bronze Age. Farming was well established in the country and skilled metal workers were producing tools, weapons and ornaments in bronze and gold. The horsehair ornament merits analysis because of its intricacy and outstanding artistry.
It is also important to explore what clues may lie within the band and the other finds associated with it. These may explain what the ornament represented to the people who made it, and to those who deposited it so carefully into a bog in County Antrim all those years ago. Since the theme of this symposium is Creating textiles: makers methods markets it is appropriate to see whether something can be understood of the priorities in these areas of the weavers and users of the Cromaghs band. In the present prehistoric context, markets must be loosely interpreted since Later Bronze Age society is far removed from the industrialized and capitalist economies of the late twentieth century. One factor clouds modem interpretation of the part played by cloth in prehistoric and early historic societies; this is the amazing availability of textiles today. In this late twentieth century people have at their disposal unlimited quantities of cloth of any quality desired. Planning how to make and use cloth, and how to acquire clothes need not take up any serious time and so their former importance is forgotten. To clear away this modem valuation of cloth as a minor ingredient of most people's lives a useful exercise is to consider the role of cloth from the ethnographic standpoint. A review of the properties of cloth may certainly include the following:
In traditional societies cloth is often a standard of value and a unit of currency; as such it becomes part of the treasure of rulers, shoring up their political power. Cloth manufacture itself may have spiritual resonances for its makers linking past and present, the living and the dead. After manufacture ceremonies of bestowal and exchange of cloth, and of investiture underwrite the authority and sanctity of new powerholders. Once cloth has been transformed into garments, it becomes a potent agent to represent or misrepresent images, identities, ranks and values. (Weiner and Schneider 1989,3-10). In prehistoric societies it is likely that all of these factors also had a part to play.