Date of this Version
From Textiles in Daily Life: Proceedings of the Third Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–26, 1992 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1993).
How many of us, all keenly interested in textiles, have not looked at paintings of a bygone age and thought: how was that garment put together? What sort of stitches were used for the seams? Or when leafing through a book with pictures of exotic places which of us has not wondered: what sort of fabric was that? Was the artist depicting a wovenin or an applied decoration?
The answers to these questions for one part of the world have been found at the archaeological site of Qasr Ibrim.1 It is located in Egyptian Nubia some 30 miles north of the Sudanese border, and is the only site now being excavated in the area which was flooded by the Aswan High Dam. This is because Qasr Ibrim is situated on a high bluff overlooking the Nile, and though the waters of Lake Nasser have risen all around it, the site itself is mostly unflooded.
Qasr Ibrim was a great fortress-city, dominating the area for many miles along the Nile both upstream and downstream. This strategic location must have attracted settlers from very early times; we know that Qasr Ibrim was continuously occupied for at least 3000 years, and was finally abandoned in 1811 AD. This long history contains many episodes, the last of which came with the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. The date of their arrival at Qasr Ibrim is less certain, but according to local tradition, a military post was established at Qasr Ibrim and was garrisoned with soldiers from Bosnia. The Bosnian troops inevitably intermarried with the local population, and they built their town above the remains of earlier houses,
Since Qasr Ibrim is a townsite, the archaeological deposits are all refuse, and the recovered objects are mostly fragmentary. The textiles were used for their original purpose, then often were recycled into something smaller, and finally were used as scrubbing rags before being discarded. They are truly textiles of daily life. Though the fabric is in relatively good condition because of the extreme dryness of the site, the fragmentary condition of the items makes their original purpose difficult to ascertain.
It is the reconstruction of these textiles, and through them, the interpretation of the lives of the people who used and wore these clothes, which make our task so challenging and absorbing. Fortunately, we have help from early European travelers, who have left us their pictures and descriptions of the people of Egypt and Nubia.