KIDS’ BLOG! Do You Love Being Fashionable? So Did Our Ancient Ancestors!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic, artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

UPDATE! This post was originally published on September 27, 2013. In the post below we bring you fascinating information about an ancient sweater found last year in Norway that is remarkably similar to some of the fashions we wear today. It is so important for us to study ancient clothing and textiles like the Norwegian sweater because the information we learn gives us clues to how our ancestors lived and it teaches us that we have a lot in common with those who came before us. Recently, another exciting discovery about ancient clothing was made on the island of Cyprus at the archaeological site of Erimi-Laonin tou Porakou. A workshop complex was excavated which appears to have been used for “textiles and dyeing.”[1]

It said the analysis of botanical remains together with the evidence for working installations such as basins and channels, and an assemblage of objects such as spindle whorls and pouring vessels strengthened the hypothesis that weaving and textile dying were the main activities performed in the complex.[2]

The site dates back to the Middle Bronze Age (2200-1570 BCE) and continues to be studied as it reveals a wealth of information about the people who lived there. It is clear from the existence of the workshop and from the intricacy of its construction that the people who lived and worked in the area were skilled at making clothing and they obviously took some interest in creating different colors and patterns. Without the help of our modern technology, they made unique fabrics using ancient techniques and manipulating their environment. Specifically, they carved the natural limestone top mound bedrock into a system of basins and channels to suit their needs as they worked.[3]

Read the rest of the article below to learn more about ancient fashion and don’t miss the fun and educational activities at the end of the post, including a Clothing Scavenger Hunt!

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Most kids and teens love being in style—do you?  When you see the newest fashions advertised on TV or on the Internet, do you want to be the first to have them?  And you know that your friends will probably want the same shirt, sweater or jogging shoes for themselves, except maybe in a different color.

Believe it or not, our ancient ancestors were style-conscious, too.  How do we know that?  Researchers in Norway exploring a hunting area on the Lendbreen Glacier found a wool sweater that was made sometime between 230 and 390 CE. [4] They identified it as a boat neck sweater used to keep warm against the freezing temperatures of Norway’s cold season.  It has the shape of a tunic (reaches to mid-thigh with long sleeves and no buttons) so it had to be pulled over the head.

Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, Marianne Vedeler

Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, Marianne Vedeler

But you know what’s really interesting? The sweater has artistic stitching and design.  Who would imagine that people living so long ago even cared about how nice their clothes looked?  Weren’t they too busy working to find food and shelter?  Yes, those were the most important concerns of ancient people, but they also seemed to care about how they looked—just as we do today.

The researchers studying the boat neck sweater noticed some fascinating details.  It was woven using a diamond twill pattern. Also, it was made from two different fabrics and some of the threads were dark while others were light, forming an alternating pattern.  The way this sweater was sewn together makes us curious as to what these ancient people considered “fashionable.”

4th-century CE Germanic tunic found on Thorsberg moor

4th-century CE Germanic tunic found on Thorsberg moor

Another pullover sweater discovered in Germany and dating back to the 4th century (between 301 and 400 CE) also contains the diamond twill pattern,[5] suggesting that this pattern was trendy at the time.  And this pattern is still popular today. Your favorite jeans and other denim clothing have this exact same diamond twill weave.[6]

Because the threads of this sweater were woven so tightly, they formed a strong, durable fabric perfect for blocking the cold wind and protecting the wearer’s arms and body as he hunted in harsh territory.   These ancient sweaters were more like sturdy jackets than today’s typical soft sweaters.

One important difference between the sweater found in Norway and the sweaters we wear today is how it was cared for by its owner. The last time you got a hole in one of your shirts you probably went to the store to buy a new one. The hunter who owned this ancient sweater mended it twice using patches of fabric. It was obviously an important possession so we don’t understand yet why it was left behind in the mountains.

We still have a lot to learn from other pieces of clothing found at the site in Norway. Maybe we’ll find further proof that our ancient ancestors cared about fashion and style!

Activities

Clothing Scavenger Hunt

Take a careful look at the diamond twill pattern examples below.  Now go through the clothes in your closet and see if you can find any other pieces of clothing that have this ancient weave.  *Remember, the weave may be very tiny and hard to spot, so look very closely.

Learn to Weave

Watch the video below with your parents and learn how to weave on a simple loom.

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1. Ancient textile and dyeing workshops excavated in Erimi. (n.d.). Retrieved November 9, 2014.

2. Ibid.

3. EXCAVATION. (n.d.). Retrieved November 9, 2014, from http://www.erimilaonin.it/excavation/

4. http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/087/ant0870788.htm

5.  Twill Weave:  The second primary weave, twill, shows a diagonal design made by causing weft threads to interlace two to four warp threads, moving a step to right or left on each pick and capable of variations, such as herringbone and corkscrew designs. Noted for their firm, close weave, twill fabrics include gabardine, serge, drill, and denim. http://education.yahoo.com/reference/encyclopedia/entry/weaving

6.http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/melting-snow-reveals-iron-age-sweater-130830.htm

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