The Fabric of Society: Textile Production Workshops in the Southern Levant

Posted in: AIAR
Tags: Al-Quds University, Albright Institute, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Deborah Cassuto, Fabric of Society, Hebrew University, iron age, Southern Levant, Sy Gitin, Tell es-Safi, Textile Production
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A Case Study From Iron Age Tell es-Safi/Gath

8-Deborah-Cassuto-blogBy: Deborah Cassuto, Bar-Ilan University
Ernest S. Frerichs/Program Coordinator

During the academic year (2013-2014), I served as the Ernest S. Frerichs Fellow/Program Coordinator and assisted the AIAR Director, Sy Gitin in compiling and implementing a full program of field trips, lectures, dinners with guest scholars, the fellows’ trip abroad to Jordan, and fellows’ workshops. A highlight of the program was the three-day Trude Dothan Lectureship in Ancient Near Eastern Studies during which Professor Ian Morris of Stanford University presented three lectures for the Hebrew University, Al-Quds University and the Albright Institute. On a personal level, I enjoyed meeting and getting to know the fellows, learning about their backgrounds and projects and introducing them to the facilities and people who could assist them in their research.

Concurrently, I continued work on my dissertation, “The Fabric of Society: Textile Production Workshops in the Southern Levant – a Case Study from Iron Age Tell es-Safi/Gath,” which deals with the identification of textile workshop contexts in the archaeological record. Despite the absence of organic materials found at archaeological sites, we cannot ignore the fact that textiles played various roles in the quotidian activities of ancient cultures, particularly in the economic and social realms of society.

While organic materials associated with textiles are rarely found in archaeological excavations, it is possible to identify where textile production was carried out, based on the remains of tools and architectural features associated with such activities discovered in situ. For example, the ubiquitous caches of loom weights discovered throughout the region, predominantly in the Iron Age, denote the locations where warp-weighted looms had once stood and imply that weaving had once been performed here.

As part of my research, I prepared and presented a paper, entitled “Modes of Textile Production in Cultic Contexts in the Southern Levant: Studying the Juxtaposition of Textile Production and Cult” at a conference on “Textiles and Cult in the Mediterranean Area in the First Millennium B.C.” hosted by the Danish National Research Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen (CTR) and the Nationalmuseet. This paper, which will be published in the conference proceedings, deals with the association of textile production with cultic contexts. Early textual evidence describes the use of cloth as offerings in cultic contexts, for adorning the sanctuaries, for priestly vestments and for the ceremonial dressing of cult statues.

The necessity for cloth in ceremonial rites consequently generated the establishment of textile production workshops within cultic compounds. In addition to providing the fabrics needed for religious rites, these workshops would have been able to supplement the cultic center’s revenue by producing surplus cloth for external commercial trade. However, when examining past societies, the archaeological evidence for this connection is challenging, since the actual textiles have not survived. In their absence, we must rely on the discovery of the textile production tools in situ which have endured, specifically, clusters of loom weights, juxtaposed with cultic artifacts and/or within architecture, in order to elucidate the relationship between cult and textile production.

In numerous excavations throughout the southern Levant, loom weights have been discovered in Iron Age temple or cultic contexts supporting some sort of association between ritual activities and cloth preparation. The recent excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, which have unearthed an exceptional quantity of loom weights found in different modes of cultic contexts, reveal differing associations between weaving and cult. For example, an early 10th century BCE context associated with a temple complex (similar to one at Tel Qasile) in which it appears that small-scale weaving was conducted in a separate side room. Also, there are at least two additional areas of large-scale textile production associated with unique cultic objects at the site.

During my tenure as the Frerichs Fellow, I have been able to compile a database and study hundreds of loom weights from Tell es-Safi/Gath, as well as from Tel Miqne-Ekron (supplementing the work previously done by Orit Shamir of the Israel Antiquities Authority), and a small Philistine cultic site in Nahal Patish. In this part of my research, I was assisted by Jennifer Maidrand, a young undergraduate student from Azusa Pacific University through the internship program of the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University. I have been able to instruct her on the warp-weighted loom and on ancient textile production and her enthusiasm has turned otherwise tedious work into a pleasurable experience.

I look forward to meeting the new fellows and working with the new director on the academic program while continuing the work on my dissertation as the Frerichs Fellow for the academic year 2014-2015.

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1 Comments for : The Fabric of Society: Textile Production Workshops in the Southern Levant
  1. Pingback: Debi’s Research Featured on the ASOR Blog! « The Tel Burna Excavation Project

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