Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Manazan Revision

Some of my readers may recall that my planned Byzantine outfit arose from my recreation of an undergarment, the Manazan shirt, which is on display in the Karaman Museum in Turkey.  My shirt--or, more precisely, shift--was based upon a pattern designed by Peter Beatson based upon examination of photographs of the find, a drawing of which can be seen here.

This week, Beatson published an alteration to his original pattern, which now appears at the very beginning of his article describing his proposed reconstruction. He reports that the photographs of the shirt that he had originally examined gave a misleading impression. A more recent photograph taken from a different angle reveals that the shirt was cut open down the front, from collar to hem, apparently to remove it from the mummified body of its wearer, and was carelessly replaced upon the body later without repairing the cut. The position of the cut gave the impression that the placket-like piece of fabric that covers the collar slit was trapezoidal, with a diagonal slice taken off the side that opens. However, Beatson suggests that it seems more likely in light of the position and effect of the cut that the piece was simply an ordinary rectangle mutilated by the cut used to remove the shirt from the body, as shown in the revised reconstruction.

Beatson also comments on how the museum's decision to cut the shirt and replace it may confuse people as to the gender of the garment's wearer. As currently displayed on the body, the corpse's arms are inside the shirt, but the garment still appears too large for the wearer.  It is also far too short for a woman's garment, though the body is claimed by the museum to be that of a 17-year-old girl.  Beatson suggests that the shirt may have been a man's tunic that was reused as a shroud, which might explain why a girl's corpse was wearing a tunic much too big for it but fails to explain why she was not buried in something that covered more of her body.

For my part, I don't feel the need to make a new Manazan shirt, even though it looks as though the pattern I used was slightly wrong.  But I felt it was worthwhile to draw attention to Peter Beatson's error because it illustrates several hazards in reconstructing garments from archaeological finds.

The first hazard is that is can be easy to get a re-creation of a garment from an archaeological find wrong, simply by making a wrong assumption.  In this case, the wrong assumption was that the front of the garment was still intact, leading to Beatson's erroneous deduction that the placket-piece was a rectangle with a diagonal slice removed from it. 

The second hazard is in assuming that museums always get things right. Not true. In this case, the Karaman Museum mutilated an incredibly valuable find--a 10th century garment that was almost completely intact--and then compounded the problem by replacing it carelessly on the body in a way that tended to obscure what they had done.

The final hazard I suppose can be called complacency, or perhaps failing to re-check one's own assumptions. The photograph that led Beatson to correct his pattern comes from a recent book by Timothy Dawson,  Byzantine Infantryman: Eastern Roman Empire c. 900-1204 (Osprey Warrior 118). Osprey: Oxford 2007.  I own a copy of the book, and had read it--and never bothered to take a close look at the photograph in question.  

So the lesson to take away from the Saga of the Shirt is that it pays to periodically check assumptions--those of your sources as well as your own--when you are attempting to reconstruct clothing from early periods with few surviving finds. 

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