Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why Knowledge of Historical Clothing Matters

While searching the Internet for articles on textiles and archaeology, I found a very interesting article on from late 2011.

The article claims that a clothing detail discovered via archaeological textile remains answered, at least in general terms, the question of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls (a number of early manuscripts, some of which are copies of portions of the Bible.  

According to the article, it turns out that approximately 200 textile fragments were also found in the Qumran caves in Israel, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.   Study of the fragments indicates that at least some of the fragments were originally part of items of clothing.

All of the fragments were plain, undecorated, undyed (and in some cases bleached) linen.  That is unusual because, during the era to which the finds are dated (between the 3rd century BCE and 70 CE) most clothing in what is now Israel was made from wool, not linen, and similar textile finds from the same region and period were often dyed in bright colors or otherwise decorated.

The archaeological team believes that the proximity of so much linen near the scrolls themselves indicate that the scrolls were produced by the Essenes, an order of monks who lived near the caves. Literary evidence indicates that the Essenes believed in cleanliness, dressed in white, and preferred to keep their skin dry, all of which suggest that they wore linen.

Unsurprisingly, some scholars disagree with this theory about where the linen fragments came from. However, whether the Essene origin of the linen, and the scrolls, is correct, the research indicates that clothing evidence is important.  Evidence of what was historically worn by a people is important, not simply to show how people lived in the past, but to confirm or refute evidence as to what people lived in a certain place, or did certain things--such as writing the Dead Sea Scrolls.   It is part of the physical evidence that allows us check and confirm our understanding of history.

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