The goal of the »Ancient Textiles – Modern Hands« project is to makehistorical textile research accessible to the general public, and at the same time to invite practitioners to contribute expertise through empirical analysis of ancient textiles. Building upon a research programme which is focused on Late Antique textiles from Egypt, »Ancient Textiles – Modern Hands« advances scholarship by recruiting participants from the large global community of professional and leisure textile practitioners to apply their talents through experimental participation.
The production of textiles was an important and highly specialised sector of the economy and trade of the ancient Mediterranean world. While, in most regions, organic material has not survived, the arid climate of Egypt has preserved thousands of ancient textile fragments from the Late Antique period (ca. 300–800 CE). These materials provide important information about various aspects of production and the overall structure of the textile industry. This region has also preserved many thousands of papyrus documents from the same period. These texts contain crucial information about the manufacture and style of textiles and include a diverse set of terms for different types of garments. While the main project evaluates the papyrological evidence for Late Antique textiles, the »Top Citizen Science« (TCS) expansion project establishes contact between scholars and the worldwide community of textile producers. Their practical experience and skills are essential to recreate ancient production methods.
A first step for active involvement of citizens in our research has already been accomplished by the interactive online »Spiral Textile« platform <https://spiraltextile.com>, which invites textile artists from around the world to produce a design found on a single ancient papyrus. »Spiral Textile« serves as a pilot-project for the proposed expansion project, which intends to establish communication between scholars and practitioners on a significantly larger scale.
The integration of textile research with crowdsourced experimental production represents a fresh interdisciplinary approach. The proposed project would be the very first global collaboration between historians, papyrologists, textile researchers and experimental archaeologists on one side with textile artists, professional weavers and leisure practitioners on the other. Thus, the project would raise the visibility, outreach and dissemination of historical textile research by integrating expertise through citizen science.
This holistic approach will make a new and significant contribution to our understanding of the development of technology and the textile industry in Late Antiquity. The project will thereby bridge the gap between academic textile studies and textile production, combining these complementary approaches for a thorough examination of this centrally important sphere of ancient material culture.