Textiles and Seals. Relationships between Textile Production and Seals and Sealing Practices in the Bronze to Iron Age Mediterranean and the Near East – Workshop

Organiser: Agata Ulanowska (Faculty of Archaeology, University of Warsaw)

The Workshop is organised as part of the ‘Textiles and Seals’ research project of the National Science Centre of Poland (ref. no. 2017/26/D/HS3/00145) and the COST action CA 19131 ‘Europe Through Textiles: Network for an integrated and interdisciplinary Humanities. EuroWeb’.

Workshop language: English

Date: 22-23.03.2021

At the workshop, we would like to examine and discuss a range of relationships between textile production and seals, and sealing practices from a wider geo-chronological perspective. It would be especially interesting to discuss the following phenomena:

  • imprints of cords and textiles on the undersides of clay sealings as a source of textile knowledge and the evidence for ‘technical’ uses of textiles;
  • marks and notation practices on textile tools, e.g. impressing seals, incising, and inscribing;
  • iconography of textile production on seals and textile production-related real-world referents for the script signs.


The schedule of the workshop is available here.


Speakers and papers with abstracts:

Part 1: Seal-impressed: textile tools and seals

Chair: Eva Andersson Strand (Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen)

1. Sophia Vakirtzi (Hellenic Organization of Cultural Resources Development [HOCRED]),

Ubiquitous motifs: common designs on spindle whorls and seals of the Aegean Bronze Age

Spindle whorls need not bear any designs to perform their function, yet in certain cultures they do. Such is also the case of some Aegean Bronze Age cultures: a survey of spindle whorls found in Aegean contexts reveals that in certain periods and places spinners were using whorls with motifs on their surfaces. What was the reason for investing extra time to create these designs on spindle whorls? Did they convey meaning or were they mere ornamentation? These are some of the questions that have puzzled archaeologists studying prehistoric Aegean spinning.

Some of the most common spindle whorl motifs and designs, such as the zig-zag, the six-pointed star, concentric circles, chevrons, triangles (often hatched), dotted borders, are also found in the Aegean seal motifs repertoire. Spindle whorls and seals are distinct classes of Aegean material culture: the whorls were the tools of an essential textile craft, spinning thread, and their motifs were usually incised, and less often impressed or stamped on wet clay. Seals were part of the technology employed in sealing practices for administrative purposes, control of various resources, transactions, or signification of ownership/identity. Their motifs were usually (but not exclusively) carved on materials harder than clay, such as stone or ivory.

Notwithstanding these distinctions, the manufacturers of both classes of objects were often drawing from a common repertoire of designs. The purpose of this paper is to bring to attention the ubiquitous motifs on these two different media in the Aegean Bronze Age cultures and to discuss whether analysis of seal motifs may inform our understanding of the potential function or meaning of motifs on spindle whorls.

2. Olga Krzyszkowska (Institute of Classical Studies, University of London),

A rare and enigmatic practice: seal-impressed textile tools in the Aegean Bronze Age

This paper will focus on an extremely rare and, as yet, poorly understood use of seals in the Aegean Bronze Age, namely the stamping of textile tools. Seemingly related to this is the practice of stamping pottery, usually on the handles, sometimes on walls or bases. On the textile tools and pottery the seals were impressed prior to firing, in marked contrast to clay sealings, which were never fired deliberately in the Aegean and which consequently survive only through chance fire destructions on sites.

Sporadic examples of stamping are attested on the Greek mainland and islands during the Early Bronze Age. A few isolated instances of stamped pottery are known, in some cases perhaps representing simple decoration, as was seemingly true of the impressions on fixed hearths at Ayia Irini, Kea. The sole example of a seal-impressed weight on the Greek mainland comes from Lerna in the Argolid. However, a notable concentration (c. 30 examples) of stamped weights occurs at the Early Cycladic II settlement of Skarkos in Ios. But until the site is fully published, their significance cannot be assessed adequately. Thus, open to question are how these relate to the total number of weights from the site and whether any notable spatial groupings occur. Present evidence suggests that the practice of stamping textile tools and pottery on the mainland and in the islands virtually disappeared after the EBA, although a few examples from Akrotiri in Thera may indicate influence from Minoan Crete in the Late Bronze Age.

In Crete the practice of stamping textile tools and pottery is likewise sporadic, but is here attested from the late Prepalatial (Middle Minoan IA) through to Late Minoan IIIA1/2. However, the main floruit of the practice appears to rest in the Middle Minoan II period, and is — on present evidence — found chiefly in eastern Crete. Nevertheless, even here no consistent patterns emerge that would help us to understand the purpose of stamping. Some sites have yielded stamped pottery, but (to date) no stamped textile tools; at others the opposite is true. And numbers are pitifully low. MM II Mallia provides examples of both, but together these total about 25 examples. At Palaikastro there are more than 40 stamped textile tools and a few pot stamps, but contextual information is often lacking. In no cases are the very same seals used to stamp both textile tools and pottery, although at both Mallia and Palaikastro several ‘sets’ of weights are attested, impressed by one and the same seal.

In all cases the seals used to stamp textile tools and pottery are indistinguishable from types known from impressions on clay sealings and from extant seals. Thus, while the ultimate purpose of the stamping remains enigmatic, this rare practice can be seen as part of a wider glyptic koine prevalent in the Aegean Bronze Age.

3. Maria Emanuela Alberti (Università degli Studi di Firenze),

Marked and inscribed loom-weights from Malia

The Minoan town of Malia yielded large evidence for textile production from various structures of the settlement (e.g. Poursat 2013, 89-120; Alberti et al. 2019, 60). A number of loom weights do also come from the immediate surroundings, but not from the wider territory, thus pointing to the existence of complex economic dynamics between territory and town. Marked and/or sealed loom weights occur in many buildings (Poursat 2013, 94) including the recently excavated Complex Pi (Pomadère 2014; Alberti et al. 2019, 60). The present paper illustrates the relevant evidence from Complex Pi and provides an overview of the marked/sealed loom weights from the site.

Alberti M.E., S. Müller and M. Pomadère (2019) “The Management of Agricultural Resources in the Minoan Town of Malia (Crete) from the Middle Bronze Age to the Early Late Bronze Age”, in D. Garcia, R. Orgeolet, M. Pomadère and J. Zurbach (eds.), Country in the City: Agricultural Functions of Protohistoric Urban Settlements (Aegean and Western Mediterranean). Proceedings of the International Conference, Marseille, MuCEM, 16–17 October 2014, Oxford: Archaeopress, 51–71.

Pomadère M. (2014) « Bâtiment Pi », BCH 138, 773–5.

Poursat J.-C. (2013) Vie quotidienne et techniques au Minoen Moyen II. Fouilles exécutées à Malia. Le Quartier Mu V, Etudes crétoises 34, Athènes : Ecole française d’Athènes.

4. Lin Foxhall (University of Liverpool), Alessandro Quercia (Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per la Città metropolitana di Torino),

Marked, decorated and seal-impressed – on the practice of marking loom weights in the Greek and indigenous communities of South Italy

Pre Roman south Italy is an exemplary case for analyzing processes of interrelationship in an area of cultural contact across the study of the material culture. In fact, from the Bronze Age South Italy was characterized by the presence of various well structured indigenous societies. From the second half of the 8th century BC South Italy was the focus of the migration of people coming from different parts of continental and insular Greece who interacted with indigenous communities through trade as well as engaging in exchanges of ideas, techniques and material culture.

Both local populations and newcomers used the warp-weighted loom for weaving as the abundance of loom weights from different archaeological contexts (domestic sites, sanctuaries and funerary areas) clearly attests. The archeological evidence, as well as iconography and textual sources provide evidence that weaving was genuinely a female activity and women and textile tools had close ties and links.

One of the main attributes of the loom weights is the presence of motives and signs marked or impressed on a significant part of these tools. In particular, some geographical comparts of South Italy yielded substantial evidence in terms of quantity and variety of the repertoire, showing how such motifs and patterns were more attested in the loom weights of some specific areas and settlements than in others.

Our paper will focus on these three general aspects, 1) the different techniques adopted for marking the loom weights 2) the repertoire of marks and decorations that were documented on these objects and 3) the uses and the meanings they played in the weaving activities and to wider extent in the ideas and culture, especially around female personal identities, of the ancient societies which lived in South Italy.

5. Bela Dimova (The British School at Athens),

Stamps and marks on loom weights from ancient Corinth

The excavations at Corinth, running with little interruption since 1896, have yield a wealth of archaeological material related to textile production. Over 1300 excavated loom weights, dating from the Protogeometric through the Hellenistic period, provide direct evidence for the textile economy of one of the greatest cities of the Archaic and Classical Mediterranean.

Stamping and marking loom weights in Corinth began in the late 6th century BC and was extensive during the Classical and early Hellenistic period: over 500 of the loom weights are stamped and over 300 are marked with letters or other incisions. The earliest stamps were made with fingerings or gems/seal stones and their use continued into the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Stamps depicting loom weights appeared in the fourth century, often alongside lettered stamps. Gladys Davidson interpreted these as producer trademarks (Corinth XII) – an intriguing proposition that appears convincing in the light of the full assemblage. It also invites a series of questions about the production and circulation of textile tools, and the links between textile and ceramic production. This paper will examine who made the marks, what information they conveyed, and to whom. It will do so by analysing how each class of stamps and marks relates to the other characteristics of the loom weights: their shape, size, functionality, and clay fabric.

6. Joanna Smith (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology),

Location matters: marked loom weights in ancient Cyprus

Seal impressions and inscriptions on ancient Mediterranean terracotta loom weights could have held multiple meanings. A clue to these meanings is the location of the impression or inscription on the loom weight with respect to how the weight hung on the loom. This paper centers on loom weights from ancient Cyprus. Loom weights that bear seal impressions or, more rarely, inscribed marks, come from Late Bronze Age through Hellenistic contexts on the island. Nearly every seal impression was made with a finger ring and most inscriptions were, like the impressions, made before the loom weights were fired. New evidence, especially from the first millennium settlements of Palaepaphos (Kouklia), Marion (Polis Chrysochous), and Kourion (Episkopi), demonstrates that during the Classical Period there was a shift from marks that would have been seen during weaving to those that would have been hidden. This pattern suggests that the reason for labeling weights shifted from a technical to a personal one. This paper pulls together the evidence for marked loom weights on Cyprus and places them in the context of the seal rings used to mark the weights, how the weavers would have seen the weights and marks on looms, and the fabrics that weavers would have made with marked and unmarked loom weights.


 Part 2: Interwoven: Textiles and Seals

Chair: Marie-Louise Nosch (Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen)

7. Catherine Breniquet (Université Clermont Auvergne), Christoph Moulhérat (Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac),

Sealings from Khirbet Derak, Halaf period, Iraq. Material, methodology and results

During decades, sealings were studied for the seals imprints they have, in a stylistic and/or economic perspective, in order to illustrate the daily life, the materiality of engraving workshops and connections between distant areas. Since several years, a new interest arises. Sealings are now often studied for their reverse side where it is possible to see imprints of cords, fabrics that belong to the container (basket, pottery, door…) on which they were applied in order to close and to secure it.

When done in the field, these studies are time-consuming as they require careful observations and technical equipment such as binocular, microscope, Dino-Lite… In some countries archaeologists are used to work exporting the material for study is not permitted.

In this presentation, we shall use the case study of the Late Prehistoric site of Khirbet Derak’s in Northern Iraq and its sealings, to present an innovative and low cost study with photographs, scanning and 3D printer which could be used now, after the digital revolution. Rescue excavations were done in the 1980 in this small site. A huge collection of sealings came from a rubbish pit. As time was very limited, we chose to store them locally but the year after, a great number of them were lost, without having been studied. Some pieces, finally exported in France, offer the opportunity to set up a new method of investigation. This was done as an experimental study with basic smartphones and photograph graphic software. 3D printing of the scanned object (which is often shapeless) and even its fabric, can be used to make copies. Of course, we are aware that this method is only a substitute, that nothing replaces the manipulation of the archaeological originals. During special periods such as lock-down, or in special contexts, this would make possible the organization of the future investigations, and to pose the problems.

8. Romina Laurito (Villa Giulia Museum, Rome),

Introduction to the analysis of textile, cord and thread imprints on undersides of clay sealings from Arslantepe

Reconstructing artefacts and objects made in perishable material and understanding knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts is the ultimate challenge in archaeology. Nowadays, innovative and meticulous research technics give the opportunity to effort this challenge.

Textiles, leathers, sacks, ropes, strings, and objects (containers, lids etc.) in wood or vegetal fibres are rare in archaeological contexts. But in some specific conditions, they leave at least an imprint on malleable surfaces. This is the case of clay sealings in the Near East, where the imprint of the seal is impressed on one surface and imprint of sealed object is preserved in negative on the underside.

Thousands of clay sealings have been recovered at Arslantepe (south-eastern Turkey) and the rigorous and the same time innovative excavation methods makes it come the perfect site to develop the methodology to identify and interweave all details recognizable on these peculiar artefacts. Such details if crossed with very few fragments of textile preserved and with hundreds of textile tools discovered at Arslantepe and connected in a broader context are able to give relevant information on the art crafts and some socio-economic aspects.

The case of Arslantepe is particularly suitable for improving our knowledge about these topics, considering the outstanding results obtaining from the recent research into the Late Calcholithic levels and the concurrent process of analysis of the meaningful information and material that have been brought to light at the site.

Here a presentation of this long and complicated research will be discussed with a special focus on clay sealings corpora from the palatial complex of the Late Chalcolithic 5 (3500-3200 BC) and the monumental area of the Late Chalcolithic 3-4 (3900-3500 BC).

9. Maria Anastasiadou (Institut für Klassische Archäologie der Universität Wien),

Hands at work in Neopalatial Kato Zakros: the documents sealed by the flat-based nodules

The largest assemblage of flat-based nodules in the Aegean has been recovered in Neopalatial Kato Zakros. More than 480 flat-based nodules were found by David G. Hogarth in 1901 concentrated in a small area within Room VII of House A. The majority of these objects preserve imprints of folded and often tied documents in their base. The paper will discuss the evidence pertinent to the types of documents represented in Kato Zakros and the way these were sealed by the nodules. It will further innovatively attempt to trace the work of specific hands/’schools’ active in the creation of these documents with the aim of defining the minimum number of individuals involved in this aspect of Minoan Neopalatial administration in the east Cretan site.

10. Sarah Finlayson (Corpus der minoischen und mykenischen Siegel, Heidelberg),

The interweaving of textiles and sealing practices in the Bronze Age Aegean: an overview

Seals and sealings were used widely throughout the Bronze Age in the Aegean to close, secure, identify and record stored products, in domestic houses and palaces alike. The sealings, made of clay, have been preserved by accidental fires which, while baking the sealings, also destroyed the goods to which they were attached. What we have left are the ghosts of these objects, visible as impressions on the underside of the sealings, and from these we must try to reconstruct sealing and storage practices and administrative processes. The use of textiles in storage and sealing processes has received very little attention up to this point; here I will consider what evidence there is, and how we can incorporate this into our existing reconstructions of storage and sealing processes. Following an overview of the evidence for sealing practice during this period, I will present two contrasting case studies – the sites of Early Helladic IIB (circa 2200 BCE) Lerna and Middle Minoan IIB (circa 1700 BCE) Phaistos; both have yielded large corpora of direct-object sealing fragments, but they present very different socio-political contexts. I will also include some observations from experimental work, exploring different ways to seal textile-covered jars. In a time of subsistence agriculture, life for many must have been precarious; the secure, long-term storage of agricultural produce, craft goods and valuables was vitally important, and using textiles to cover open jar mouths or to wrap boxes, or putting objects into sacks, could have made all the difference for effective preservation.

11. Fritz Blakolmer (Institut für Klassische Archäologie der Universität Wien),

Textiles and seals: their manifold interrelations in the iconography of the Aegean Bronze Age

During the 2nd millennium BCE, the use of the vertical, warp-weighted loom in the production of Minoan, Cycladic and Mycenaean textiles enabled elaborate design in rich polychromy. In the Aegean Bronze Age, iconography is more or less our single source for gaining closer information on the decoration and the ornaments of textiles. Although hardly any craft activities were depicted in Aegean iconography, motifs of textile production seem to have been represented in Middle Minoan seal images. Despite the fundamental differences of their technical production, Aegean textiles and seals share manifold cross-craft relations. Textile ornaments on seals permit us to recognize the correlation of ornament motifs in dress and on seals. Ornaments such as the flat meander, running spirals and rosette motifs depicted on seals possess excellent parallels in depictions of dress in figural scenes of Minoan Crete. A ritual of major significance in religious festivities of Neopalatial Crete is presentation scenes of dress, as can be observed in seal images and mural paintings, be it the presentation of the flounced skirt to women or of the fringed coat that, probably, was an insignium of a political ruler and thus worn by him in a ‘Special procession’. Another remarkable issue is the abundant evidence of figural motifs on textiles in the Aegean Bronze Age: as can be judged by Minoan and Mycenaean iconography, motifs such as crocus, swallows and even human figures were depicted on elaborate dress of mostly female figures in large-scale mural paintings. This permits us to define elevated Aegean textiles as a remarkably versatile iconographic medium comparable to seals and signet rings.

12. Jörg Weilhartner (Universität Salzburg),

The Linear B logograms for textiles and wool: Some thoughts on their peculiarities

At first glance, the Linear B logogram for textile (*159/tela) looks like a conventionalised sign of rather abstract design (resembling to some extent the syllabic sign for wa i.e. AB 54). However, allowing for its fore-runner in the Linear A script it seems clear that in its origin it represents a textile of rectangular shape hanging from a warp-weighted vertical loom. The “fringes” may be understood as indicating threads with hanging loom-weights at their end. The reason why the sign for textile is not rendered in a more pictorial way in Linear B (in contrast to many other logograms) may lie in the special use of this sign: Whereas a substantial number of logograms in the Linear B script include on occasion the initial syllable of the word of the object in question (e.g. the sign for amphora is ligatured to the syllabic sign a), the sign of textile is modified with 6 different syllabic signs. In addition, this logogram is specified with further names of textiles (whose name is not abbreviated and written within the logogram). Therefore, tela seems to stand for an umbrella term, which is without good parallels within the Linear B corpus. The paper will try to give some tentative answers to this phenomenon.

The design of the logogram for wool is also unique in a way. On present evidence, it is the only Linear A monogram, which has survived into Linear B. The Linear A sign was made up of two syllabic signs that seem to represent the Minoan word for wool (when using Linear B values for the two syllabic signs in question). However, the Linear B sign for wool is somewhat dissociated from the Linear A predecessor: Does the change in the design of the logogram reflect the change of the languages which stand behind Linear A and Linear B?

13. Agata Ulanowska (Faculty of Archaeology, University of Warsaw), Katarzyna Żebrowska (Faculty of Archaeology, University of Warsaw), Kinga Bigoraj (Faculty of Archaeology, University of Warsaw) and Piotr Kasprzyk (Digital Competence Centre, University of Warsaw),

Launch of the ‘Textiles and Seals’ online database

The “Textiles and Seals” research project investigates the complex relationships between textile production and seals and sealing practices in Bronze Age Greece. The main research questions posed by it attempts to explain the use of textiles in sealing practices and the use of seals in the administration of textile production, as well as the possible meaning of iconographic references to textile production on seals. The main types of evidence investigated, i.e. seal-impressed textile tools, textile impressions on the undersides of clay sealings, and textile production-related iconography, feature different functionalities, parameters, and meanings that require different manners of recording. Since this also requires scheduling of different research queries, the new “Textiles and Seals” database was designed and built online specifically for this project by the Digital Competence Centre of the University of Warsaw, the project’s technological partner. The software used to construct the database is free and open source.

In this paper we will briefly discuss how the “Textiles and Seals” database facilitates the tracking of correlations within the examined evidence, based on a statistical search of a significant number of records and, hitherto, unexplored combinations of data. We will also present the first module of the database to be published online on March 23rd 2021, i.e. ‘Iconography of textile production’ and its search engine.

14. Marie-Louise Nosch (Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen),

Summarizing and concluding remarks

Registration for the Workshop: “Textiles and Seals. Relations between Textile Production and Seals and Sealing Practices in the Bronze to Iron Age Mediterranean”, March 22nd and 23rd 2021

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