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(2015)Medieval Silk Textiles in the Land of Israel
Dr. Shamir OritA, Baginski AlisaB(A Curator of Organic Materials, Israel Antiquities Authority B Retired senior lecturer of textile history and retired curator of the textile study collection, Shenkar College of Textile Technology and Fashion, Israel )

Silk has been discovered in Israel from sites dating to the Byzantine period (Fifth century CE) such as  Nessana (Baginski and Sheffer 2004; Bellinger 1962) and Avdat (Baginski and Tidhar 1978) and onwards from the early Islamic period  (Baginski and Shamir 1995). The most important and significant silk textiles assemblage was found at a cave near Jericho (Qarantal Cave 38) dated to the Medieval period, ninth through thirteenth centuries CE.

768 textile fragments were discovered there. They display a remarkable variety of materials (silk, cotton, linen, wool and goat-hair) and techniques suggesting their diverse geographical origins. Most significant are the silk fragments made in various techniques, some of them requiring sophisticated looms, and a large group of textiles with S-spun linen warps and Z-spun cotton wefts which is unique to the site. Most of these fragments were parts of clothing (e.g. trousers, tunics, coifs). Others could be recognized as bags, wrappers and strips for tying.

Why was such a large quantity of used and reused textiles stored in the cave? It can be assumed that the people who stored them there were rag collectors or merchants who collected them for the paper industry which was introduced by the Arabs from China through Central Asia in the eighth century CE and became popular in the region using mainly textiles as its raw material.

Because of the unrest due to the frequent fighting between the local population and the various conquerors who invaded the area in the tenth-thirteen centuries, they couldn't return back to the cave to take the textiles with them. This political situation enabled us to discover these finds at the cave.

A great deal can be learned from these discarded fragments about the shapes and materials of garments and other textiles in daily use in the Medieval period in the Land of Israel (Shamir and Baginski 2013a; 2013b).


A few other medieval textile assemblages from the Land of Israel have been discovered (Shamir and Baginski 2002a) – for example, at ‘Avdat (Baginski and Shamir 2001), at Kasr el-Yahud Shamir 2005), Judean Desert caves (Shamir and Baginski 2002b), and at Caesarea (Baginski 1996). However, none of these assemblages is as rich and diverse as the one in Cave 38 and none of them have silk textiles except Caesarea with one silk textile.


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