Archaeology

Wild Textile

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Science  19 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6105, pp. 305
DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6105.305-b
CREDIT: C. BERGFJORD ET AL., SCI. REP. 2, 664 (2012); PHOTO BY ROBERTO FORTUNA/THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF DENMARK

It's been generally thought that the human use of textiles greatly accelerated with the advent of agriculture. Earlier woven textiles using wild materials are known, and indirect evidence for woven fabrics dates back to glacial times. However, early cultivation of plants such as flax and hemp, and also the domestication of sheep, are thought to have provided more reliable raw materials. Bergfjord et al. now show that wild nettle was used widely and valued as a textile source as recently as 2800 years ago in Denmark. The Bronze Age textile was found wrapped around a body in a burial site; the orientation of the fibers and the presence of calcium oxalate crystals verify that it was made from woven nettle. Using strontium isotopes, the authors further show that the nettle was likely imported to Denmark, probably from Central Europe—an area that had active flax agriculture at the time. Thus, wild plants were still valued for textiles long after extensive cultivation of flax and hemp.

Sci. Rep. 2, 664 (2012).

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