Dashing visits to the Bolton, Ashmolean, and New Walk Museums

As we were heading to Europe for my presentation in January, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and arrange to see as many of the Egyptian socks as I could manage in the time allotted. Reviewing my list of the current locations there were a significant number of institutions generally situated around Manchester, UK. As neither my mother nor I had ever been to Manchester, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Given the short time frame, I had only managed to arrange visits with the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Manchester Museum (to be discussed in later posts). However, I still wanted to see go to the others on the off chance that the socks would be on display. If not, then to at least see the exhibited collections.

We flew in on a red-eye flight. My brother kindly picked us up at the airport and drove us to the Bolton Museum.

The Bolton has fragments of the ankle portion of two Coptic socks. One is green: http://www.boltonlams.co.uk/collections/item/461?subjectId=4 the other is yellow, red, purple, and blues: http://www.boltonlams.co.uk/collections/item/460?subjectId=4

Neither were on display. Nonetheless, the Egyptian exhibit was interesting as was the rest of the museum. We particularly enjoyed the local history and natural history sections.

The next day we headed to the New Walk Museum in Leicester. I’ll be writing a more complete post about that visit separately as their sock was on display.

Then a quick dash up to Oxford to visit the Ashmolean. We had unfortunately gotten off to a late start and thus were very rushed for time when we arrived.

There was a bit of construction so we entered at the side entrance which put us directly into the Ancient Egyptian section.

In 2010, the child’s sock was on display. It was my hope that it might still be when we went this January. However, for the safety and preservation of their textiles, the Ashmolean limits the amount of time any particular object remains on display and the sock had been on display for several years.

At the time of my visit, it was up in the conservation lab and there was no time to arrange to see it. One of the few pictures available of this sock is at: http://ancientegyptiansock.blogspot.com/ This image is slightly blurry, but does give a nice representation of the colors and striping on this sock. I am hoping that as the Ashmolean puts more of its collection online, that in the next year or so it will be available via http://collections.ashmolean.org/collection/collection-online.

Another view (#2), in black and white, that I believe to be of the sock now in the Ashmolean can be seen in the image taken during the 1913-14 excavation of Antinoë for the Graeco-Roman branch of the Egypt Exploration Society that I discussed in my earlier post “Have you seen this sock: Part 2.”

I now find myself in the midst of making travel plans which, amongst other places, will actually take me back to the Ashmolean. This time with a scheduled appointment to see the child’s sock and another Coptic sock in their collection.

And another one! – TEPTYNIS in the Fayoum

This last year has been a very exciting one as I work to track down all known examples of nalbinding (simple and compound) found in Egypt and surrounding regions. (Preliminary results were presented in January.) Primarily these have been dated art historically to the Coptic Era with some earlier and some later dates, generally covering much of the 1st millennium. Radio carbon dating has tended to bring the dating of these finds earlier than the art historical datings, moving many of them into the Roman and Late Antiquity Eras.

Many of these finds I have known of for decades and thus am simply collating and analyzing data I have already collected. But as I am searching for more recently published data and images, I have had the repeated giddy fortune to run across finds I did not know about previously. Sometimes they are old finds that have been hiding in their museums for over a century or obscure publications that are now finally easier to track down (a shout out to my friends that send me articles; you know who you are). Occasionally, the finds are from relatively recent (within the last 30 years or so) excavations. Sometimes it is simply an image that I then have to track down where it is currently located and if there are any publications. Other times it is a reference in a publication leaving me to track down images to assist with my comparative analysis.

Today, it is an image (embedded below). Conveniently posted within a nice article that provides information regarding the institutions involved with the excavation. Most importantly, it notes that while the “Child’s Sock” was found amongst rubble, the stratigraphy led to well-dated layers resulting in a dating from the Greco-Roman Period of 2nd century BCE. Thus leading to the added excitement of potentially corroborating the carbon dating of another cross-knit nalbound sock that fell unexpectedly into the first few centuries before the Common Era.

Photo credit: Explore Fayoum http://www.fayoumegypt.com
Source: “Unexpected Treasures 30 Years of Excavations in Um El Burigat (Teptynis) at Cairo Museum

So if you heard a random giddy squeal of joy today, it might have been me. A new to me sock, complete with image and dating. A new city for the map of finds. Potential corroboration of the dating of another sock. These are the things that make me bounce with glee. Now to actually dig further and find more information.

Bibliographic Additions:

De Moor, Antoine, Cäcilia Fluck, M. Van Strydonck, and M. Boudin. “Radiocarbon dating of Late Roman woolen socks from Egypt,” In Textiles, tools and techniques of the 1st millennium AD from Egypt and neighbouring countries. Proceedings of the 8th conference of the research group ‘Textiles from the Nile Valley,’ Antwerp, 4-6 October 2013, edited by Antoine De Moor, Cäcilia Fluck, and Petra Linscheid, p. 131-136. Tielt: Lannoo Publishers, 2015.

Explore Fayoum. “UNEXPECTED TREASURES 30 YEARS OF EXCAVATIONS IN UM EL BURIGAT (TEPTYNIS) AT CAIRO MUSEUM.” Published April 16, 2019. https://fayoumegypt.com/unexpected-treasures-30-years-of-excavations-in-um-el-burigat-teptynis-at-cairo-museum/. Cultural Heritage of Fayoum. Accessed May 24, 2019.

Van Strydonck, Mark, Antoine De Moor, and Dominique Bénazeth. “Carbon Dating compared to Art Historical Dating of Roman and Coptic Textiles from Egypt.” RADIOCARBON, Vol 46, no. 1: pgs. 231–244. Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona, 2004.

Socks in the ROM

Exciting news. As I was preparing for my presentation in January, the Royal Ontario Museum posted photos (including some shots of the bottoms) of all 11 of their 3rd-7th century cross-knit nalbound socks from Egypt. You can see them by searching for socks in the ROM’s online collection search: https://collections.rom.on.ca/advancedsearch/objects/geography%3AEgypt%3Btitle%3ASock

The ROM also recently posted a video about these socks, showing some great views, shot during Barbara Köstner’s visit in 2016. Also available via: https://www.academia.edu/38500243/Video_Nalbinding_Socks_from_Late_Roman_Egypt_3rd-7th_CE_

It’s a great video. One minor note I’d like to add. The term “Tarim stitch” is a misnomer as cross-knit nalbinding is not found as a primary construction stitch in the Tarim Basin finds. I discussed this in my January presentation and will be blogging about my summer of 2000 trip to see the Tarim hats in a later post. Cross-knit nalbinding examples show up on multiple continents, with the Andean region being particularly prolific. The oldest example of the cross-knit looping structure is a fragment found with some of our earliest textiles in the Nehal Hemar cave.

Further information on the Tarim finds and also on many truly comparable items to those in the ROM are available in my presentation from January of this year available for viewing at: https://uwtsd.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.asp…

Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile

https://uwtsd.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Sessions/List.aspx#folderQuery=%22taes%22&folderID=%22913d3640-037f-47c5-b341-a9d90123ac81%22On January 21st, 2019, I was honored to give a presentation entitled Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile (click on title to view recording: 30 minutes) at the Textile Archaeology of Egypt and Sudan’s (TAES) seminar on “Current Research in Textile Archaeology along the Nile” at the Centre for Textile Research in Copenhagen. They recorded the presentations and posted them online. A direct link to mine is located here.

This presentation focused on the over 110 extant nalbound artifacts, primarily socks, that have been found in Romano-Coptic Egypt and surrounding areas. They are now located in museums throughout the world. I was honored to be authorized to include photographs of a good number of the extant objects, including photos of some that had not otherwise been published.

This presentation was intended to be an introduction to the breadth of information that can be gleaned from examining the corpus as a whole: the diversity of nalbinding variants, the colors and shapes of the objects, their shaping and construction, the find locations up and down the Nile, along the Eastern desert and in the Western Oases, etc.

Extant Romano-Coptic nalbinding from the Nile Valley and surrounding regions provides one of the most statistically significant populations of such material, consisting of over 100 specimens.
The technical variant used in approximately half the objects is misleadingly called Coptic or Tarim stitch. A preferred established term is cross-knit looping and personal examination of the Tarim basin finds has not revealed its presence there. The misnomer derives from the misinterpretation of a brief note in a broader work, compounded by unawareness of the variant’s oldest known occurrence from the Nahal Hemar cave.
The term Coptic stitch reflects a greater understanding of naming conventions for nalbinding variants. However, recent research indicates that multiple finds labeled as Coptic actually date to the Roman and Late Roman Eras. The nominal association with the Coptic Era is additionally misleading because half of the designated corpus displays a range of more complex variants.
This paper addresses the terminological imprecision, confusion about underlying fabric structures, and effects of provenance irregularities. It also presents an initial collation of available images and mapped locations of the Egyptian finds as part of a comprehensive catalog of nalbound objects prior to 1600 currently being compiled.

“An acclaimed independent researcher in her element made a marvelous presentation yesterday.” Photo by Ruth Decker

This post was specifically to collate posts regarding the presentation. However, I plan to write up a bit of my experiences leading up to the deciding to do the presentation and the preparation therefore in a future post. I also want to write up one on the trip surrounding the seminar and presentation as I was lucky enough to arrange several visits with museums to see extant items in their collections (reports on which will be forthcoming in their appropriate venues).

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