IASSRT Papers: A probable silk heirloom from Central Asia recovered from a late tenth-century house in Dublin

IASSRT Papers: A probable silk heirloom from Central Asia recovered from a late tenth-century house in Dublin

This is the sixth in a series of posts showcasing papers most relevant to the Nara to Norwich project from ‘Reconnections along the Silk Road: Restoring and Reconstructing Textiles from Afar: 7th Symposium of the International Association for the Study of Silk Road Textiles (IASSRT)’. Here we reproduce the abstract of the paper by Frances Pritchard on an unusual piece of silk thought to have been produced in Central Asia but discovered in Dublin.


A probable silk heirloom from Central Asia recovered from a late tenth-century house in Dublin

Frances Pritchard, Honorary Research Fellow, School of Arts, Languages & Cultures, The University of Manchester.

By the late tenth century Dublin was a busy mercantile centre on the western fringe of the Viking world with contacts extending beyond the Baltic to Asia and Byzantium. The material culture of the inhabitants has recently become much better known from a series of excavations undertaken by the National Museum of Ireland especially as the conditions of preservation for organic materials in the town are remarkable.

Many hundreds of textiles woven mainly from either wool or silk have been recovered from tenth and early eleventh-century deposits and among the variety of silks, which include ribbons made from silk that was not fully degummed, headscarves, strips of weft-faced compound twills used as garment trimmings and tablet-woven bands, one item stands out as being unique. It is a warp-patterned (?) tabby with a geometric design of a type unknown in the western world at the time but familiar from sites along the northern ‘silk road’, including Moščevaja Balka. The piece is very worn but it is completely intact having been sewn round all its double-folded edges with almost invisible hem stitches in silk thread to form a sub-triangular shape, 210 mm by 125 mm. In this its finished state, it appears possible to suggest that the unusual silk, which was probably produced in a workshop situated somewhere in Central Asia, and which was found within a building rather than in a rubbish deposit, was treasured as an heirloom.

Silk woven in warp-patterned(?) tabby from a late tenth-century building deposit at Fishamble Street, Dublin, National Museum of Ireland, E172:11482. (Photo: Michael Pollard)