As I’ve continued working on Minoan and bronze age Aegean sea area clothing I’ve ran into some fascinating challenges, and some even more fascinating insight!
“Restored” images & fragments
One of the biggest challenge is fragmentary frescoes, and the recreation of them. Knossos was discovered by Sir Arthur John Evans, a British archaeologist, who “restored” many of the frescoes there as he thought they should be with the assistance of Swiss artist Émile Gilliéro. The artist’s son, by the same name, later did further restoration work when an earthquake damaged some of the remaining images.
More recently, archaeologists such as Dr. Bernice Jones have been challenging some of the assumptions of how these frescoes were restored, and seeking to refine our understanding of the original art. This is an ongoing project, and there is often small disagreements that result in dramatic changes of how a fresco is interpreted.
Minoans LOOOVVVEED their Wallpaper
Frescoes were not a single layer! Many had been painted over several times during the Bronze age, making the puzzle of putting them back together even more challenging. (For example, assemble 3 puzzles on top of each other, now break chunks of them off and mix those pieces into a bowl, try to match the pieces back in the right layer on the right puzzle. Oh, and similar colors and paint styles were used, so make sure your puzzles are very similar too).
When is “wool” wool – and when is it a dollar?
Linear B has been translated, mostly, we think. It’s not a direct translation of ancient Greek, it’s older, and after it passed away on the Minoan isles there was about a 300 year gap called the Greek dark ages before a written language (the Greek alphabet) was used again. Much of Linear B was translated in the 1950s, but there are still questionable translations and complete unknowns.
One of the challenges in language is how certain words were used. There are a group of tablets from the palace at Knossos where the translations result in fabric being compared to various amounts of wool. The way we would say “$50 worth of fine silk” or “$100 of rough cotton”. Wool is compared to cloth and separately to “edged cloths of a royal type” (Panagiotakopulu, Eva, University of Edinborough)
Fabric, fabric, and more fabric!
Minoans had a surprisingly wide variety of fabric and animals that could be harvested for fabric. Frescoes depict a number of goat, sheep, and other furred animals as well as silk moths, cotton plants, and flax type fibers. Some fresco images show fabric solid enough to cover the body completely, while others are depicted as incredibly sheer. Clay tablets written in Linear B have been translated with words for sheep, goats, wool, and fabric. Must of the trade from Knossos was dedicated to textiles.
How did they make that?
A common assumption is that Minoans were limited to warp weighted looms and tabby woven bands, what we frequently call inkle bands. The patterns in trim on the fresco images are incredibly complex, as are those of the fabrics, and could have been created in a number of ways. I was unable to find obvious tablets as early as 1300 BC, but there are bone tablets from 8th Century BC in central Italy that are were clearly used for tablet weaving. The wear patterns along the lines of the cards are the same that my own favorites get after frequent use.
In short – combining a lot of different pieces and angles of investigation is yielding an incredible wealth of knowledge. Creating, and wearing, the clothing depicted in frescoes has added even more information. I’m preparing a more detailed write up piece by piece, and will post it soon!