Date of this Version
Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,
Flax (Linum sp.) was one of the first domestic plants in Neolithic Europe, providing a potential cultivable source of fibres for the first farmers. As the plant provides both oil and fibre, it is a matter of enquiry as to whether the plant was first domesticated for its seeds or stem. Through examining new data collected by the EUROEVOL Project, UCL it is possible to chart the earliest archaeobotanical evidence for flax species in Europe. This provides the basis on which to consider the origin of fibres from the flax plant (linen) as a basis for change and innovation in the fibre resources used for textiles. These are then explored from a technological and material perspective. From a technological perspective I compare the chaîne opératoire of linen with contemporary sources of fibre, namely tree bast fibres and other wild resources in central and northern Europe. From a material perspective I compare the physical properties of linen, willow and lime bast fibres together with observations from experimental archaeology to consider the material qualities of the linen in relation to other available fibres resources. Through these approaches this paper suggests that flax had a special role as a fibre domesticate in Europe, providing a versatile, valuable resource for the production and use of textiles during the Neolithic period.