Date of this Version
In Approaching Textiles, Varying Viewpoints: Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000
Archaeological textiles are generally so rare that each one can be dealt with as the precious individual it is. But when ancient rags are emerging from the ground by the basketful, how do you deal with them? When, at day's end, you are confronted with two to three hundred separate textile specimens, and similar numbers are expected each day of excavation? That is the challenge that Elisabeth Crowfoot and I faced together for five seasons at the site of Qasr Ibrim.
The archaeological site of Qasr Ibrim is located on a bluff high above the Nile River in Egyptian Nubia, about 30 miles north of the Sudanese border. It was a powerful fortress-city, dominating the area for many miles 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 only abandoned finally in 1811 AD.
Since Qasr Ibrim is in Nubia, one of the driest regions of the world, the preservation of organic remains is truly amazing. In addition to literally thousands of textiles, we find remains of leather, wood, basketry and matting, parchment, papyrus, paper, and forgotten or lost stores of wheat, dates and beans. The town was built on its own trash, so the archaeological deposits are all refuse, and the recovered objects are mostly fragmentary. For example, a rag, which was originally part of a man's garment, was cut down to make a child's dress, and finally was used as a scrubbing rag, before being discarded. Though the fabric is in relatively good condition because of the extreme dryness of the site, its fragmentary condition makes it often difficult to ascertain an original purpose. However, if hems, seams, or other features are present, we can often recognize the ghost of the original garment.