Session 16 – Sensing Textiles and Cogitating Crafting Technology

Timetable: Friday morning 0930-1300 in the Whitney Battle-Baptiste Zoom Room

Format: Standard

Organisers: Jennifer Beamer


The primary goal of this session is to create a common framework that will engender inter- and intradisciplinary discussions of how to address textiles and craft technology theories and methods in the 21st Century. The intention of this session is to explore the burgeoning methods and theories for a comprehensive approach to studying craft technology holistically and begin conceptualizing how our multi-faceted disciplines may work towards this goal, some of which is already being established in current research networks. These include foundational research in experimental archaeology, sensory perception, scientific and non-invasive technology methods. Recent publications (eg., Harris 2020; Kania 2015) have demonstrated the drive towards incorporating sensory perception of textiles and production and the explicit role of crafter in production which has traditionally been placed rather implicitly, as well as grappling with difficult dimensions of craft, such as creativity (Jørgensen et al. 2018), which implore us to examine across the spectrum of technologies.

This session encourages paper submissions on broad topics including, but not limited to:
• Sensory perception of textile craft
• Haptic connections and cognitive archaeology in textile craft technology
• Epistemology of textile production
• Uniting experimental and experiential textile archaeology
• Ethnography in archaeological textile studies

Peripheral studies which bear on these themes are also welcome, and may include:

• Human/non-human interactions within relevant craft spheres
• Case studies demonstrating comprehensive and integrated approaches of craft technology
• Development of theoretical perspectives with broad applicability to craft technology
• Epistemological advancements and anthropological explorations of embedded craft technology

Harris, S. (2020). The Sensory Archaeology of Textiles. The Routledge Handbook of Sensory Archaeology.

Jørgensen, L.B., Sofaer, J. and Sørensen, M.L.S. (eds.). (2018). Creativity in the Bronze Age: understanding innovation in pottery, textile, and metalwork production. Cambridge University Press.

Kania, K. (2015). Soft yarns, hard facts? Evaluating the results of a large-scale hand-spinning experiment. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 7(1). p.113-130.


0930 – Introduction

Jennifer Beamer

0935 – Experience, Experiment, Crafter and Scientist – never the twain shall meet?

Katrin Kania, Independent researcher

Archaeological experiments, just like any proper scientific experiment, depend on good control and good documentation to be reproducible. When working with natural raw materials, however, it can be very difficult to document everything precisely enough to allow reproduction. In addition, the influence of each individual craftsperson can be immense, and both the details of their process and the scope of their experience are again extremely hard to document in a detailed enough way. Finally, when variables are large and the process is usually done “by feel” according to sensory perception and the crafter’s experience, the more rigid structure of an experiment might not lead to the best results possible.

0950 – Creating the future. Nine lessons from engaging with clay

Paul March, University of Oxford

I present a case study from a ceramic workshop, focusing not on the outcome of the workshop but on the process of making. In doing so, I propose a definition of creativity that equates crafting with the development of circumstances that facilitate uncertain or unpredictable consequences. Instead of seeing craft as a nostalgic and rather romantic backwater of human activity, this interpretation presents crafting as a process that creates its own future and, in so doing, highlights as well as undermines certain fundamental assumptions that are made within traditional cognitive science about the nature of intention and of agency and about the location and function of the human mind. The presentation ends with nine lessons learned from an afternoon spent with clay.

1005 – Experiencing Variables: Mythologizing Technique

Jennifer Beamer, University of Leicester

This paper discusses one of the primary issues of experimentation within textile studies, solidifying technique as fact. The researchers at the Centre for Textile Research (CTR) in Copenhagen, Denmark, have been the forerunners of archaeological practice in terms of aims and procedures suited to experimental work with textiles in the 21st Century. Crucially, the methods and techniques they employ are both sensible and practical and relate to the archaeological record. However, not all textile tool assemblages are the same in different regions or time periods, therefore it is essential to explore the differences that arise when experimenting with different tools, and how they may encourage certain types of techniques for using them. Herein lies the potential problem.

Textile production sequences are culturally embedded, so it is far less reasonable to simply adapt the work of the CTR and add/substitute different textile tools when engaging in experimental archaeology. The experimenter(s) is(are) positioned as: coordinator/expert/analyzer/scientist/artist/interpreter/etc. The experimenter may feel more connected to certain positions than others. In craftworks, there is often a stated method of ‘doing’, and reinforced through other social mechanisms, resulting in a specific technique (or range of techniques). In current trends in textile experimental archaeology, the ‘CTR method’ of experimenting with handspinning, weaving, and interpreting the results with respect to the archaeological record has become an established method of ‘doing’ the research. This petrification process stifles the purpose of exploratory experimentation—on which the original CTR project was based—which reduces our chances of understanding the variables contained within the textile production sequences of our respective study areas. This paper mythologizes ‘technique’ in favour of experiencing variables within and throughout the experimentation process more fluidly.

1020 – Break

1130 – Whispering threads: the value of sensory experience in the study of medieval textile production technology

Gwendoline Pepper, University of York

The importance of sensory experience to the study of historical textile production is a concept that is growing in popularity, yet it remains an ephemeral topic which cannot easily be interpreted from the archaeological record without the aid of experimental and experiential archaeology. In studying the technology of textile production, experiments led by more focused criteria (efficiency, functionality, etc.) still have the potential to enable the observation of the sensory qualities of particular modes of production that may inform textile research in unforeseen ways. Observations made in this context have the opportunity to delve beyond the mechanics of textile production, in order to understand more complicated relationships between artisans and tools. Furthermore, there is an important relationship between the haptic aspects of textile production and the development of tacit knowledge. The acquisition and refinement of techniques in textile production from spinning, weaving, and off-loom processes, to the identification and collection of materials suitable for these processes, so often relies on unvoiced sensory experiences, the consequence being that it can be easy to formulate flawed theories on historical modes of production when lacking the requisite hands-on experience. This paper will explore the themes of sensory experience, knowledge acquisition, and textile technology via discussion of my own experience with both experimental and experiential archaeology, and how these concepts translate to my current PhD research on the technology of medieval silk thread production.

1145 – Unravelling the mystery: examining the impact of human agency in textile production

Amber Rivers, University of the Highlands and Islands

This paper sought to determine the nature of textile production at The Cairns Iron Age settlement in South Ronaldsay, Orkney by utilizing a dual approach, combining traditional artefact distribution analysis with experimental archaeology. The examination of spindle whorl distribution indicated that textile production intensified during the late 3rd-4th centuries AD and began to be more highly organised in workshop settings. Using an established methodology which correlates spindle whorl weight with yarn gauge, experimental spinning trials were conducted with replicas of recovered spindle whorls to determine whether these production changes were due to a change in products. Unfortunately, this study found this methodology to be unreliable in determining yarn gauge solely from whorl weight. This led to an exploration of the impact of tools vs. human agency in textile practice, and the need to refine existing methodologies. This recognition of the impact of human agency in this and other types of craft production, may mean that the days of extrapolating product type from an assemblage of tools are over, but this does open new possibilities to the ways in which scholars approach ancient creative practices. By shifting our focus of textile production from tool-centred to artist-centred we have the opportunity to understand this practice beyond the technical application of tools, as a complex system of choices made by craftworkers in collaboration with their environment, their resources, and with their artists.

1200 – Sensing Textiles in Roman Iberia (Spain): Epistemology and future perspectives

Leyre Morgado-Roncal, University of Granada, Spain

The study of the Archaeology of Textile Production in Hispania has been facing many inconveniences: the lack of textiles vestiges, inconsistent methodology and absence of academic attention. Fortunately, since the 21st century we have seen a revival in these types of studies. The introduction of a more holistic approach will be fundamental, but still, it is an emergent topic. Consequently, we will be discussing different case studies where non-invasive methods have been applied and especially experimental archaeology. In doing so, we hope to showcase the current state of textile studies in Roman Iberia, offer new methodological possibilities and contribute towards a more sensory and holistic perspective

1215 – Discussion

1245 – Concluding remarks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with
Get started
%d bloggers like this: