Textile Archaeology in Egypt and Sudan – University of Copenhagen

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Textile Archaeology in Egypt and Sudan is a network of researchers focussing on textile studies along the Nile Valley, covering Sudan and Egypt from Prehistory to the Early Modern times. Our approach is grounded in archaeological methods with the proclaimed aim of always considering textile finds within their archaeological context, taking into consideration their production, use, and final discard, as well as the circumstances of their modern discovery and study.

Thanks to its unique environment, the Nile valley has been the location of many discoveries of archaeological textiles. Since the beginning of Egyptological research, studies have been driven by exceptional findings, such as the Tarkhan dress, the New Kingdom funerary textiles of Kha and Merit, or the many Late Antique tunics found in the necropolis of Akhmim or Antinoe. These iconic pieces provide unmatched parallels to the rich iconographic repertoire of Egyptian paintings, and together with depictions of spinning and weaving workshops, offer a seemingly homogenous picture of Pharaonic textile production. White linen and wrapped around dresses and kilts became incarnations of the Egyptians’ appearance, while the Beni Hassan weaving scenes became the symbol of ancient textile craft, widely used in textile studies.

Nuancing our approach, recent research in this field has renewed our views of textile production in the Nile Valley[1]. Detailed analysis of textile fragments, tools and archaeological contexts in Amarna, Qasr Ibrim or the Western desert oasis for example, have highlighted the diversity of textile traditions and clothing clotures across time periods and regions. Current projects are now focussing on deepening our knowledge of many more aspects of textile production, encompassing a wide range of issues, such as fibre production, textile chaîne opératoire, labour organisation, the construction of social status and cultural identity, as well as textile economy, exchange and trade.  

At the crossroads between textile studies and archaeology, TAES aims to gather different researchers exploring these new avenues, in order to build a better knowledge of the specificities of textile production in the Nile valley and recognise its role in the ancient societies of Egypt and Sudan. Textile research has undergone great developments in the last two decades and, together with a large network, CTR has been at the forefront to formulate its new methods. Several researchers working on ancient textile production from Egypt and Sudan have met in CTR over the past years, while many new projects are currently under way in different countries, bringing more data dating from Prehistoric to Antique and Medieval periods. This renewal of interest on such a rich body of material has naturally created the need for a common forum where scholars could meet, share knowledge and questions while learning from each other. We hope that in the future TAES will fulfil those needs, helping to promote the potential of textile research and integrate its results into Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology.

TAES starting objectives

  • Create a network of researchers working on textile archaeology in Egypt and Sudan;
  • Offer a forum to discuss our approaches and methods, on the occasion of specific events (e.g. workshops and collection visits) or through online content;
  • Organise meetings and seminars to bring these researchers together so they can present the progress of their research and learn together;
  • Study textile production along the entire span of the Nile Valley, questioning the specificities, commonalities and differences of textile craft and cultures in this unique environment.

The first venture of the TAES group will occur on the 21st of January 2019, on the occasion of a seminar organised at CTR in the University of Copenhagen. We are confident that this seminar will be a good opportunity to meet and hopefully discuss the creation and subsequent activities of the TAES network. Activities could take various forms depending on the members’ needs, such as study days in museums, thematic workshops, online repository of reference material, newsletter, training on technical and analytical tools needed in the field…etc.

The first newsletter was published in April 2019 – if you are interested in receiving this please contact us at taes@hum.ku.dk

TAES co-ordinators

  • Dr. Elsa Yvanez, MSC postdoctoral fellow, CTR.
    Research interest: Meroitic and Late Antique textiles from Sudan.
  • Anne Drewsen, MA in Egyptian Archaeology, CTR.
    Research interest: Predynastic textiles from Egypt
  • Ulrikka Mokdad, MA in Art History and expert weaver, CTR guest researcher.
    Research interest: Late Antique and Byzantine textiles.

[1] At the instigation of Cäcilia Fluck, Petra Linscheid and Antoine De Moor, the Textile for the Nile Valley Research group has had a particularly important impact in forming new standards of research.