Textile Society of America


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


Copyright © 2000 by the author(s).


Nearly 40 years ago, Anna Gayton wrote a paper entitled, "The Cultural Significance of Peruvian Textiles: Production, Function, Aesthetics for the Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers (1960). Textile studies at that time and earlier had tended to focus on one or more of these three categories when dealing with ethnological textiles, but studies of archaeological textiles were almost entirely descriptions of techniques and designs. While in the past 10 or 15 years, significant advances have been made in the interpretation of ancient fabrics; we still have a long way to go.

What, then, are the approaches that we must now take to adequately study prehistoric textiles and derive the greatest amount of knowledge from them? First, accurate descriptions with attention paid to terminological clarity, preferably using a standard such as that of Irene Emery (1966); second, a thorough knowledge of the literature, museum collections, and range of possibilities; third, employing multidisciplinary corporations analysis; fourth, the use of such studies as semiotics, linguistics, ethnographic analogy, and mythology to attempt to understand meaning; fifth, experimentation; sixth, to make use of logical and scientific theory, yet approach the study with an open mind; and seventh, to always keep in mind the fact that are archaeological specimens are the product of human beings. Since it is unlikely that any one person could possibly accomplish all of this, it will be necessary to call upon others with specific areas of expertise and, whenever possible, to communicate with one's colleagues for their advice and criticism.