Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Disappointment!

As I review the NESAT XI papers, I find that some of the articles that I expected to find fascinating are disappointing, because circumstances have limited the amount of clothing information that can be gleaned from them.  The most severe disappointment, for me, was the article about the Cloonshannagh bog find:
Heckett, Elizabeth Wincott.  The Lady of Cloonshannagh Bog:  An Irish 7th Century AD Bog Body and the Related Textiles, NESAT XI, pp. 167-172.
Knowing that this article would be in NESAT XI was exciting for me, because there has been little archaeological work published from Ireland to allow the recreation of clothing from any period before early modern times.  Most of the information used to recreate historical Irish clothing comes either from the limited pictorial evidence or (primarily) from literature.  To find an intact and clothed bog body, particularly from as early as the 7th century, would be an enormous boon.

Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure whether the Cloonshannagh find might have been such a boon, because the body was "discovered" by workers operating a peat cutting machine.  The machine "scattered her bones and shredded her clothes," as Professor Heckett says in her paper.  As a result, textile fragments--over 138 of them--were recovered from the bog randomly.  

Professor Heckett was not deterred by the unfortunate circumstances of the find.  She patiently reassembled the skeleton as well as could be done, matched the textile fragments by type and reassembled them, and then used evidence of the parts of the skeleton with which each textile fragment was associated in order to make tentative deductions about the garments the dead woman must have worn to her grave.   The information Professor Heckett obtained in this manner sheds a surprising amount of light upon the dead woman and her clothing.

The first, and most obvious discovery Professor Heckett discusses in the NESAT article, is that the woman's clothing included seven different types of cloth, and six of the seven were of good quality, being well woven and well-spun.  Five of the textiles were twills, one was a fine quality tabby, and the last a poor quality tabby.  The variety, quantity, and quality of the textiles indicates that the dead woman was of high status.

The largest of the textiles, referred to in the article as "textile A", appears to have had a long, shaggy pile, that likely was created by working thick pieces of yarn into the cloth during the weaving process.   This cloth appears to have covered most of the woman's body, and Professor Heckett that it may have been a cloak, as "Ireland has a long history lasting into the 19th century of shaggy pile cloaks and capes".  If this textile is indeed part of such a cloak, it would be the earliest known example of such a shaggy pile cloak.  (p. 167).

Fragments of textile B were found stuck to the inside surface of the cloak (Professor Heckett was able to distinguish the inside surface from the fact that "small pieces of a different cloth attached to the underside side were also attached to a rib bone") (p. 167)  It is now a dark reddish gray in color. Professor Heckett suggests that this different cloth, textile B, may have been part of a garment, perhaps an outer tunic.

Textile C was the only textile in the find that was a ribbed tabby weave.  The 2-ply thread from which it was woven was z-spun but s-plied; the warp was tightly plied, while the weft was thicker and much more loosely plied.  These specimens are associated with the pelvic area of the skeleton, and Professor Heckett suggests that they may have been part of "a woven band attached to a belt or to some other article of dress."  (p. 167)

Textile D had a human hair attached to it, and textile E was directly attached to a rib bone, indicating that these two fabrics were worn close to the woman's body.  Professor Heckett suggests that textile E was part of a leine, the primary tunic of the Irish.  Textile E was woven in a 2/1 twill, using different colors for the warp and weft and thus was "two-tone" in color.  Textile F was very loosely woven, also two-tone in color with the warp a dark reddish brown and the weft a "strong brown"; Professor Heckett theorizes that this fabric might have been part of a head-wrapping or veil.  Finally, textile G was also two-tone, with the warp threads being dark reddish brown and the weft threads being "black and lustrous."  (pp. 167-168)

Because of the scattered condition of the Cloonshannagh find, we cannot make guesses as to the cut of the woman's clothing.  However, the textiles are consistent with other research showing that in the sixth and seventh centuries, Irish women wore one or more leines, brat or heavy cloak, and a head covering.  The textiles are also interesting in that they include two examples of 2/1 twill (textiles E and G), which are unusual for early medieval Ireland; tabby weave was typical.  This information is at least reasonable consolation for the disappointment of not having found the lady's grave intact.

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