Severely degraded textiles on archaeological artifacts at the Agora excavations in Athens, Greece

Julie Unruh


At the Agora Excavations in Athens, Greece, remains of archaeological textiles survive more frequently than previously recognized. Severely degraded remnants of bags, wrappings, covers, clothing and other textile artifacts have been found in association with inorganic archaeological objects dating from the Bronze Age to the Byzantine period. These textile remains have generally escaped detection because at first glance they appear to be soil adhering to the surface of the artifacts. Normally they cannot be removed from the associated objects or handled without destruction. Nonetheless, textiles in this largely unrecognized state of preservation can be documented.

Evidence which contributes to their characterization includes the presence of organic material, the fiber contents of which can be identified with instrumental analyses. The surrounding soil, which retains the structural details of a textile in the form of grooves and bumps that follow weave patterns and voids left by yarns as negative impressions in the soil also provide information on weave, count, thread diameters, and twist information for textiles which are no longer extant.

Examination and documentation of severely degraded remains will be illustrated via case studies of a Mycenaean alabastron lid, wrappings for ritualistic Classical pottery; a Classical paint palette cover, and an unidentified Byzantine textile found associated with a marble column fragment. Dilemmas arising from the presence of textile remains, which obscure the surfaces of artifacts that also must be examined, will be discussed.

2002 | Miami | Volume 9