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Unwinding the thread: interdisciplinary research on early wool craft in Greek prehistory

Sophia Vakirtzi, Katerina Papayianni, Eleni Mantzourani


This paper presents the results of an interdisciplinary research on the beginnings of wool craft in continental and insular Greece between the 7th millennium (Early Neolithic) and the 3rd millennium BC (Early Bronze Age), a period from which no woolen textile remains are preserved. In the zooarchaeological component, a synthetic reassessment of published caprine mortality profiles and sex ratios from Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites is presented in order to detect patterns of flock construction supporting wool harvest. Furthermore, a statistical reevaluation of published sheep bone measurements from the same contexts is attempted in order to trace skeleton size fluctuations due to sheep improvement efforts. Also, geometric morphometrics analysis was applied to sheep astragali from two case studies, Sitagroi and Alepotrypa, to identify changes in the sheep skeleton shape. In the technological component, spindle whorls from published Neolithic sites and from the better-known Early Bronze Age record were surveyed to detect significant shifts in the technological apparatus of yarn production in the period under study. Data on surface-wear of spindle whorls from the two case-studies, Sitagroi and Alepotrypa, were collected to evaluate the potential of use-wear analysis in the identification of wool spinning. The archaeological data on spindle whorls is discussed in the light of spinning experiments published in the last ten years and with the perspective of ethnographic testimonies on wool spinning. Finally, the experimental activities of wool processing initiated with this project is presented. The combined outcomes of the two research approaches indicate the Middle Neolithic (mid-6th millennium BC) as the earliest horizon in which wool draft may be detected in the region of Greece.


wool craft; spindle whorls; sheep bones; biometry; ethnography; experimental archaeology

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.26247/aura5.6


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