Tools and Textiles – University of Copenhagen

Tools, Textiles and Contexts (TTC)

The geographical and chronological framework is the Central and Eastern Mediterranean in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC.This was the period when textile production rapidly developed from household production to standardised, industrialised, centralised production, on the basis of a division of labour. Within this area we also see the development of palace economies, new means of production, inscriptions on production management, tools, glyptic, fresco and relief iconography in which types of dress are visible, and evidence of the architecture of production from excavations. We aimed to reveal how tools and technology developed to meet the new demands. However, in many previous studies the approach remains descriptive. In order to grasp the real production processes, in the absence of archaeological textile remains, it was necessary to join forces and combine specialist knowledge, not only from the region itself, but also that developed elsewhere, such as in the Scandinavian tradition.

In the Mediterranean area, there is a great deal of confusion concerning the definition of textile tools, as the main analyses are based on shape and decoration rather than on function. Another problem is that analyses of textile tools are rarely discussed or published systematically. The first source group to be investigated was thus the tools, but utilising a functional approach: How did tools function? What were their qualities and limits? How much time is needed to produce a textile?

TTC Missions

• Understand the technological parameters for textile production
• Elucidate the economic and cultural impact of textiles and textile manufacturing on society
• Develop experimental textile archaeology
TTC Methods
• Experimental testing
• Textile tools studies
• Context investigation
• Textile analyses

Interpretation of function

The function of certain textile tools was tested as an experimental archaeological study by skilled craftswomen. The CTR's principles for utilising experimental archaeology as a scientific method are as follows:

• Raw materials should be selected according to our knowledge of Bronze Age wool and linen fibres.
• Tools should be reconstructed on the model of precise copies of archaeological artefacts.
• The primary parameter to be investigated is the function.
• All processes must be performed by skilled craftspeople.
• Each test should be performed by at least two skilled craftspeople, in order to secure a more objective assessment of the results.
• All processes must be documented, and some filmed.
• All products must be submitted to textile analysis by external persons.
• On the basis of the established typology, the tools will be reconstructed by experienced craftspeople. Experimental testing will be conducted with the aim of analysing the functioning of the tools, time consumption, and the quality and quantity of thread and textile.
The results from the experiments have undoubtedly given a better understanding of the function of spindle whorls and loom weights and their suitability for the production of different types of textiles. It has also been demonstrated that variations within a tool group determine variations in the final textile product. The variations in the tools thus inform us about very specific qualities in the cloth or thread, and suggest the type and quality of textile production in a settlement.

Textile Tools

One of the main objectives of the TTC research programme was to record as many textile tools from as many types of sites as possible within our target area and date: Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean area in the Bronze Age. It has also been of the highest importance to be able to compare tools in and between different contexts, sites and areas. This was nothing we could do alone and this part has therefore been accomplished together with collaborators working with textile tools on various sites. Comparing data on artefacts from different excavations can be problematic due to differences in their recording process. Therefore, within the TTC program, a universal textile tool database was designed. The greatest importance has been attached to recording the functional parameters of a tool, which would have had an effect on the nature of the textile produced. However, dimensions and characteristics, not considered to be functional, that is, having no effect on the finished textile, were also included.

Once the textile tools on the sites included in the programme had been recorded, the individual databases were sent to CTR, where all the data have been processed as part of the TTC research programme. Material from 23 sites was recorded by the collaborators. In order to assess how published textile tools could be included in the overall discussion material from another nine sites were recorded in the database from publications.


Remains of textiles from the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean in the Bronze Age are small fragments that are always fragile, often mineralised or charred, and are sometimes just impressions in the surface of clay, or imprints in the soil surrounding objects. Defining the geographical boundaries for a survey of textile finds from the Mediterranean area has been somewhat difficult. We therefore decided to base this important part of the TTC program on Elizabeth Barber’s work Prehistoric Textiles. The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with Special Reference to the Aegean, which contains references to almost all the relevant archaeological material until 1988 (Barber 1992). However, the most recent information regarding textile finds from the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean area has been obtained by the TTC research team and is also included.


In order to demonstrate how textile research can contribute to a better understanding of the past, we focused on the evidence for the nature of textile production at selected Bronze Age sites. The aim was to give good examples of how textile tools could be used in order to discuss textile production during a particular period or within a particular building at a specific site. Each case study is based on the technical textile tools report and incorporates the results of the analyses of the textile tool assemblage from the individual site, together with a context description, and with contributions from the collaborators. In order to provide a wide range of examples, the various studies presented have various perspectives and slightly different approaches, all relating to the site in question.


Alberti, Maria Emanuela, Italy
Aravantinos, Vassilis, Museum of Thebes, Greece 
Baccelli, Giulia, University of Tübingen, Germany
Batzer, Anne Højrup, Land of legends, Lejre, Denmark
Becks, Ralf, Schloss Hohentübingen, Germany
Betancourt, Philip, Institute for Aegean Prehistory Crete, Greece
Burke, Brendan, University of Victoria, Canada
Brogan, Tom, Institute for Aegean Prehistory Crete, Greece 
Bruun-Lundgren, Maria, Göteborg University, Sweden
Cristiani, Emanuela, University of Rome, Italy
Cutler, Joanne, University College London, UK 
Elster, Ernestine, University of California, USA 
Fahlén, Anna, Sweden
Fappas, John, Archaeological Museum of Thebes, Greece
Feldbacher, Rainer, University of Vienna, Austria 
Felucca, Elena, Italy 
Firth, Richard, UK
Fischer, Peter M. Sweden
Frangipane, Marcella, University of Rome, Italy 
Gillis, Carole, Lund University, Sweden 
Gleba, Margarita, University College London, UK 
Guzowska, Marta, Warsaw University Krakowskie, Poland
Hallager, Erik, The Danish Institute at Athens, Greece
Hallager, Birgitta P., The Danish Institute at Athens, Greece
Klintberg, Lena, The Swedish Institute at Athens, Greece
Lassen, Agnete Wisti, TORS, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Laurito, Romina, University of Rome, Italy 
Militello Pietro, Universita di Catania, Italy
Möller-Wiering, Susan, Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorf, Germany
Nikolovieni, Gerasimoula, University of Crete, Greece
Smith, Joanna S., University of Pennsylvania, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, USA