Nalbound camel muzzles

Three wise men, riding on camels, followed an Eastern star… so they say.

Camel sporting red muzzle in Livestock Market, Wholesale Markets area. Doha, Qatar, March 4, 2013 Photo taken by  Alexey Sergeev. Used according to commonly accepted rules and regulations.

This last year’s examinations included several examples of nalbound Omani sand socks in addition to the Romano-Coptic Egyptian socks I’ve been concentrating on of late. I spent some time searching for comparables and stumbled across a rare image of sand socks being worn. Searching for more I realized that there is a reluctance to take images of people’s feet (not that surprising given the cultural issues). However, in my searches I was reminded that sand socks are not the only traditional nalbound objects in the Empty Quarter of Arabia. Anti-spitting muzzles for camels are another traditional craft that uses nalbinding quite frequently (amongst other interesting techniques such as ply-spliting, etc.) and it turns out that people are much less reluctant, eager even, to take pictures of camel muzzles than they are of people’s feet.

Photo taken on June 22, 2010 by Jarod Carruthers of a Camel in the Dubai Desert. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

These camel muzzles are almost always identified as knitting; though I’ve yet to see a knitted one. And while I did see one source that called them crochet (a technique that has some minor representation in modern camel muzzles though not commonly amongst those photographed), none of that particular article’s accompanying photos were representative of anything but nalbinding. This misidentification of technique obscures the living tradition of this ancient craft.

Based on the imagery online, current trends in camel muzzles involve the use of brightly colored acrylic yarn. A more traditional one now in the Pitt Rivers Museum, 2003.9.132, was collected in 1994 and is made of hand-spun yarn. This is similar to the majority of the sand socks I have examined. Those in the Pitt Rivers that were collected between 1985 and 1986 are also primarily hand spun  (2003.9.134 .1, 2003.9.135, 2003.9.136, 2003.9.137, as well as the recent pair at TRC, Leiden  TRC 2018.2807a-b). Although, the Pitt Rivers also has the brilliant red/green striped pair, 2003.9.138, which are entirely acrylic and the pair acquired in 2011 and now in the British Museum,  2012,6004.5.a-b,  incorporates some black acrylic at the cuff of otherwise hand-spun socks.

Camel and falcon in the desert in Qatar.
Camel and falcon in the desert in Qatar taken by Ralf Steinberger on March 9, 2012. (CC BY 2.0)

Our knowledge of historical nalbound artifacts from the Arabian penninsula is so negligible as to be non-existent at this time. However, nalbinding’s general obscurity also means I believe it’s less likely to have been something picked up from travelers or invaders. Nalbinding has a known history in Egypt & Sudan, and  current traditions not just in the Empty Quarter, but also further into the Middle East in Iran (I’ll be writing about traditional Iranian giveh in the future).

The search for as many examples of camel muzzles as I could find took me places I never expected. It’s not often that my nalbinding research turns up celebrities. But this search found me glancing through Paris Hilton and Martha Stewart’s vacation photos amongst others.

The nalbound camel muzzles all appeared to be worked at rather large row heights. Between that and the acrylic yarn, in the closer photos it was easy to see the stitch used. I was a bit surprised to find that in each and every case where it was clear enough to see, the stitch used was UOO/UUOO F2, more commonly known at the Mammen stitch (after a single find of the same stitch in Mammen, Denmark).

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However, that finding is consistent with the socks I examined as well. I did come across one image, that while it was not clear enough to make a determination from, did appear to potentially be of a simpler compound version than the predominant Mammen. As of yet, it appears the socks examined by Peter Collingwood are of a stitch atypical of current use.

So on this day of Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings, I bring you the gift of brilliantly colored nalbound camel muzzles. If you’d like to see more, a simple search for “camel muzzle” will bring up a beautiful bouquet.

Edit: Further follow up is available in this blog post: More Camel Muzzleshttps://nalbound.com/2020/05/25/more-camel-muzzles/

And on this page, which includes many many photos and links to More photos: More Camel Muzzleshttps://nalbound.com/more-camel-muzzles/

Medieval Nubian Nalbinding in Sudan

I’m very excited to start this year off by calling your attention to a particularly spectacular and significant pair of nalbound socks. While the known corpus of finds out of Egypt continues to expand as growing interest encourages examinations of those random boxes and unopened drawers that have been languishing, next to nothing was available about nalbinding further up the Nile. And now, not only do we have our first known piece of medieval nalbinding found in Sudan, it’s a pair of compound nalbound socks decorated with intarsia.

These beautiful blue wool socks with yellow and green accents, KH 18868, are currently on display in the “Hidden Textile Treasures in the collections of the Sudan National Museumexhibition which opened in Khartoum on October 24, 2019 and will run through May 2020. The green crosses on the fronts and yellow crosses on the backs of the ankle shaft are worked as an integral part of the fabric.

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Magdalena Woźniak, as part of her broader Nubian Textiles project.1 I had the honor to meet her last January at the TAES seminar in Copenhagen. She brought this pair to my attention after my presentation, Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, introducing a broader understanding of the wide variety within nalbound finds from Egypt and surrounding regions. In particular, the embroidered crosses on the two socks2 found at Deir el-Dyk caught her eye given the intarsia crosses of this pair.

These Nubian socks were found on the feet of an adult woman buried in the medieval Christian cemetery in Semna South.3 Dating to around the 11th century AD is based on the type of burial and the last architectural phase of the Christian church that was built there in the 9th-11th centuries AD. 4

This extraordinary pair of socks constitutes one of four unique fabrics that were allowed to be transported to Poland for conservation as part of the project.5 Conservation complete, they returned to Sudan in time for the exhibition opening and are now housed in sealed and properly lit display cases for preservation.

Another small picture of the conserved socks on display is included in IKŚiO PAN’s exhibition announcement (in Polish). The further linked description pdf (also in Polish) includes two closer photos, one pre- and one post-conservation, showing the technical front and technical back of one of the integrally worked crosses. (See also link and link). We are currently working on an article with further details.

This will be one of many articles I will be working on this year. Last year, I was honored to have the opportunity to examine a large number of other examples of extant objects. However, the travel required, and life’s demands, meant that I did not have much time to analyze and write up the data I acquired. I look forward to being able to bring together more data regarding historical nalbinding.

Also, a huge thank you to all those that brought me information on finds new and old this last year.

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NOTES:
1. Part of the “Nubian Textiles: craft, trade, costume and identity in the medieval kingdom of Makuria” project, the exhibition was prepared by the Instytut Kultur Śródziemnomorskich i Orientalnych Polskiej Akademii Nauk (IKŚiO PAN) [Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Poland Academy of Sciences] in cooperation with the Sudanese National Museum and the Section Française de la Direction des Antiquités du Soudan (SFDAS) [French Archaeological Unit Sudan Antiquities Service].
2. One sock is now held in the British Museum; EA72502. The other, III 3356, is located in the Museum der Kulturen, Basel. See also: Gayet, Albert. Le costume en Egypte du IIIe au XIIIe siècle Palais du costume, Exposition Universelle de 1900. Paris: E. Leroux, 1900. https://archive.org/stream/lecostumeenegyp00frangoog#page/n112/mode/1up Accessed January 1, 2020.
3. Further information regarding the excavations is available in Žabkar, Louis V. and Joan J. Žabkar. “Semna South. A Preliminary Report on the 1966-68 Excavations of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute Expedition to Sudanese Nubia” in Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 19 (1982), pp. 7-50. Published by: American Research Center in Egypt DOI: 10.2307/40000432 Accessed January 2, 2020.
Also, the SFDAS has a link to this very nice pdf that outlines the history of the region and shows Semna on a map.
Rilly, Claude. The Sudan National Museum in Khartoum: An illustrated guide for visitors. Translated by Solène Marion de Procé. SFDAS 2013. https://sfdas.com/IMG/pdf/livretmuse_etenglight.pdf Accessed January 1, 2020.
4. Personal correspondence: Dr. Magdalena Wozniak, October 2, 2019.
5. http://centrumnubia.org/en/projects/nubian-textiles/conservation/ Accessed January 1, 2020.