Egyptian pit-looms from the late first millennium AD — attempts in reconstruction from the archaeological evidence


In discussions on the development of weaving technology, specifically treadle looms in the Mediterranean area, Egypt is often referred to as one of the earliest countries in which people used foot-powered looms for producing cloth. It is thought to have been in regular use in the production of cloth as early as the second half of the 1st millennium AD. This belief is built on results from excavations undertaken during the early 20th century by the Egypt Exploration Fund at the hill of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna in Luxor, as well as on textile studies. Unfortunately, none of the postulated looms has ever been found and no pictorial evidence has survived illustrating the apparatus that the weavers worked on. Texts provide only scant information, none of which is sufficiently descriptive. For the reconstruction of the weaving device used in Egypt during the Late Roman and Early Islamic periods one therefore depends on the scarce archaeological and architectural information from excavations. This consists predominantly of pits, which were identified by Herbert E. Winlock as substructures of a horizontal treadle loom. However, Winlock’s identification was criticised by various researchers, and subsequently his suggestion was disproved by the experimental reconstruction of a loom within one of the pits of the monastery of Epiphanius, as well as the comparison with more recent archaeological evidence. Although Winlock was with much certainty correct in proposing that the pits were once loom emplacements, the type and features of the weaving apparatus are still uncertain

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