Minoan: the challenges & the fun

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!

Going Minoan (or Mycenaean!)

A few years ago the California summers had me digging for SCA garb that was cooler than Viking.  I mean, there are European countries that are hotter so there HAD to be cooler garb, right?

Greek or Roman was a common suggestion, but I felt blimpy and  weirdly bundled into that much fabric.  Textiles from the time period were much more finely woven and had a delicate draping quality that the mass produced linens available today do not have.

Enter Minoan!  Vestia Antonia Aurelia caught my eye with her phenomenal work creating Minoan style garb and I began piling up research.  Life happened and my interest got sidelined a bit.

Vestia has several really awesome collections giving a lot of insight and information:

Then Southern Summer, oh that muggy, heat filled, maximum humidity death by heat and water….

Back to Goin’ Minoan research!   This time I started with a broad collection of cultures and imagery from around the Minoan islands in 1300 BC.  Mycenaean and Minoan cultures had a lot in common, and a lot of trade between the two islands.  One particular fresco caught my eye.

The Mykenaia, found at the Southwest Building at Mycenae, is rather uncommon in that it shows a frontal view of the front of a dress, and one that seemed to indicate a bolero style jacket on the top.

Bernice R. Jones has done a lot of research into Minoan, and her information on this fresco was invaluable.  You can find some of her work here:  AJA Online Article 21

Above is Dr. Jones rearrangement of the fragments, and this is her suggested reconstruction:

I began with the bolero style jacket.  It has a deep V back and the most fabric efficient method of making it is to take a simple rectangle of fabric, and cut a V into the center bottom of it.  Fold the edges up to create sleeves, add some trim, and voila:

  

Fitting notes:  This took a few tries to get right because the arm-scythe is actually a deep angle.

  • The width of the fabric is your measurement elbow to elbow
  • The height of fabric is your arm gusset + seam allowance.
  • Fold fabric in quarters and mark the center edges on the bottom and both short sides
  • Draw a V going up from the center bottom.  The top width of the V should be your measurement from side seam to side seam.

The top still didn’t fit quite right, so after looking at a lot of fresco images, I decided to add a second row of trim to the top of the bolero:

This changed how the back hung and stiffened up the shoulder line in a way that kept it in the right spot.

The dress fitting was comparatively easy.  They seemed fairly snug fitting in the top but room enough for easy movement (several frescoes show figures bending, walking, moving, etc with legs farther apart).  The top had a deep V neckline, but in this fresco was clearly covering the breasts.

     

One very common element in Minoan women’s clothing is either ruffles or fringe on the bottom of skirts.  I didn’t find striped linen in a red/yellow/gold so used these cooler colored stripes to create the offset patterned like in the fresco.  From a weaver perspective, either of these would be easy to weave.

For a final step I made beaded necklaces and bracelets to wear with the dress.

I noticed in the fresco that the beaded necklaces did not extend over the bolero.  I’m curious if they may have been pinned into place similar to viking beads.  “The Archaeology of Greece” by William R. Biers lists a variety of wire fibula shapes found in Minoan digs.  I tried this for my bolero, pinning 3 strands of beads to the sides.  This worked really well and kept the bolero from riding backwards.

Another neat resource is a video of a hairstyle:  Ancient Hairstyles

Note:  TRIM!  Minoans sure loved it!  They most likely were using tabby weave trim, such as can be done on an inkle loom or rigid heddle.  There is a lot of yardage of trim on this garment, and more coming on the apron.

Look for part 2 🙂

Going Minoan: The earliest European cultures

Goin’ Minoan album is live!

The first page consists of short notes about the civilization and area

The next section of pages are images from the island, the ruins, and the frescoes there.

The next section consists of reproductions by Jones (major authority!) and a few inspired paintings that are particularly well done.

The colored edge drawings are mine – I started with the basic shape of a woman and outlined the various dresses we see in the fresco images. This helps compare the overall shape and layers of the dresses.

The final pages are jewelry, hairstyles, and shoes to finish off the look.

Enjoy!