Last Friday I went to the Kelsey Museum of Archeology at the University of Michigan to see the exhibit Ancient Color, a look at color on Roman artifacts.
Most of the people there looked at the hard artifacts, statues, pottery, and pieces of wall, but I drooled over the textiles. It wasn’t a huge exhibit, but it was mind blowing to me that we have such ancient textile fragments to study, and that we are using most of the same materials centuries later.
Wool bag, here’s the museum description:
Wool with red, green, and possibly yellow dye.
Roman period (1st–4th century CE), Karanis, Egypt, U-M Excavations, 1924–1935.
Look at that red, and it’s probably faded! The bag is woven, but how. Is it backstrap? And the wool, what breed?
Textile fragment featuring a scene from the myth of Leda and the Swan. Here are the museum details:
Wool with purple dye. Roman period (1st–4th century CE), Karanis, Egypt, U-M Excavations, 1924–1935.
Look at the detail in this weaving, it’s about 8”x8”. Was the purple, Tyrian purple, dyed with Murex rock snails? I want to know more about that super stinky process.
There are three, the Red on the left, Blue on the right in the front, and Purple on the right in the back.
Here’s what the museum knows: all are Roman period (1st–4th century CE), Karanis, Egypt, U-M Excavations, 1924–1935.
Red: Wool with red dye (possibly Madder). Blue: Wool with blue dye (possible Indigo),flax. Purple: Wool with purple dye (possibly a blue-red mixture), flax.
The Blue and Purple fragments look woven with a linen warp and wool weft. The Red fragment I can’t really tell the construction, maybe twined? Clearly I have to go back.
Here you can see official museum photos of all of these pieces on grey.
This show shut down my working brain and filled up my curious brain. I’m going to do more digging on ancient Roman textiles, textile conservation, and the stinky snail dye process.
You can look at parts of the show online. Be sure to check out the resources page, there are lots of great links. If you are near Ann Arbor they have extended the run to July 28th. Coming to town and need a yarn fix? My lys is Spun in Kerrytown.