The expression of cultural cross-fertilization in Egyptian clothing of the 7th-10th century AD

By Anne Kwaspen

The TUNICS project explores the impact of cultural cross-fertilization between the diverse populations in Egypt in the Early Medieval period, through a comparative study of the garments people were wearing.

In general, archaeological clothing and textile finds from the 1st millennium AD are exceptional because of the transient nature of the organic material. Nevertheless, the specific conditions of the desert environment in Egypt, beneficial for the preservation of textiles, have led to an impressive quantity of valuable archaeological textile material. These finds, from cemeteries and settlements, have resulted in a unique source for the study of textiles and clothing from Late Antiquity.

The tunic was the basic garment, worn by men, women and children during the Roman and Byzantine period and still remained so after the Arab conquest in 642 AD, which marked the transition to a new era in Egypt. The installation of a new political power, however, did not mean that all social, economic, religious or cultural customs of the previous society were simply eradicated, but led to the introduction of new perspectives and ideas. In the particular matter of clothing in Egypt, this means that, in addition to the type of tunic which had been worn since the Roman period, a new type of tunic was introduced after the Arab conquest. The TUNICS project will focus on the reciprocal influences of the old style and the new style of tunics and the mutual exchange of formal characteristics and technical expertise. 

Primarily, this research will be object-based. Data collection from various museum collections and archaeological sites will not only result in a thorough insight in technical crafts knowledge, but will also contribute to the understanding of the development of ancient garments and offer a unique perspective to explore different aspects of cultural identity and society. Both comparative, experimental archaeology and innovative digital research methods will be used to fully investigate the relationship between the garments and their wearer.

The comparative study will be communicated through a series of academic publications and conferences. An Open Access database will be accessible to professionals as well as to a broader audience with interest in costume history.