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Provenance of archaeological wool textiles: new case studies

Karin M. Frei
  • Karin M. Frei
    The National Museum of Denmark, The National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research, Copenhagen, Denmark |


In the last two decades, measurements of strontium (Sr) isotopes in archaeological bone tissues/skeletons have shown to be an effective technique for the characterisation of human and animal mobility in prehistory. More recently, this tracing system is also being applied to the investigation of archaeological textile’s provenance. The importance of ancient textiles has been often underestimated, however research of archaeological textiles is currently experiencing an extremely increasing interest as the development of new methodologies, conducting experimental studies and lancing of new projects are providing an unreached amount of new information, knowledge and impressive data sets which together build the basis of novel thinking and interpretations. This manuscript aims at summarising two of the most recently developed methods that focus on the extraction of Sr from ancient non-dyed and organic-dyed wool threads from archaeological textiles in an attempt to identify if the raw materials are local or non-local to the sites. In particular, this study presents two case studies which rely on the use of these chemical protocols. The first example deals with a wool/fur sample from a modern Greenlandic Musk ox. The purpose of this study is to characterise wool from an exotic animal on the one side, and to try to establish a link between this wool and a geologically-seen ancient and very special terrain (Archaean basement rocks from the Kangerlussuaq area of Western Greenland) on which this musk ox was grazing. Our interest was focused on whether the bioavailable Sr fraction from this terrain impacted on the composition of the wool from the animal. The second case study deals with three thread samples from four ancient wool textile pieces recovered from one and the same pre-Roman Iron Age peat bog site at Krogens Mølle (Denmark). Some of these textiles have proven to be dyed with organic dyestuffs. This study therefore aimed at applying a novel pre-cleaning methodology developed for dyed (by organic dyestuffs) wool threads from ancient textiles. The outcome of these two particular studies revealed both the potential of these novel methodologies for retrieving the original Sr isotope signature of the raw material wool, and their limitations.


textiles, strontium isotopes, provenance, Iron Age, Krogens Mølle

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Submitted: 2013-12-12 11:01:11
Published: 2014-01-21 10:28:48
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