Skip to comments.Analysis of Rare Textiles From Honduras Ruins Suggests Mayans Produced Fine Fabrics
Posted on 04/16/2008 8:10:53 PM PDT by blam
Analysis of Rare Textiles From Honduras Ruins Suggests Mayans Produced Fine Fabrics
An analysis of textile fragments excavated from a 5th century Mayan tomb in Honduras, some of the few surviving textiles from the Mayan civilization, revealed high quality fabrics produced by highly skilled spinners and weavers.
Newswise Very few textiles from the Mayan culture have survived, so the treasure trove of fabrics excavated from a tomb at the Copán ruins in Honduras since the 1990s has generated considerable excitement.
Textiles conservator Margaret Ordoñez, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, spent a month at the site in 2004 examining 100 textile samples found in a tomb, and since then she has been analyzing tiny fragments of 49 samples she brought back to her lab to see what she could learn from them.
The tomb, one of three excavated by archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, was of a woman of high status who was buried during the 5th century.
What was most amazing was that there were as many as 25 layers of fabrics on an offertory platform and covering pottery in the tomb, and they all had a different fabric structure, color, and yarn size, so its likely that the tomb was reopened perhaps several times -- and additional layers of textiles were laid there years after her death, said Ordoñez.
One fabric in particular had an especially high thread count 100 yarns per inch which Ordoñez said is even considered high for modern textiles. It speaks to the technology they had at the time for making very fine fabrics. Its gratifying that weve been able to document that the Mayans were quite skillful at spinning and weaving.
Analyzing these ancient textile samples is a complex and laborious process, particularly because the remnant samples are so small.
Ordoñez pulled out about 30 plastic containers the size of a film canister, and inside each was what looked like a rock or bit of compressed mud about an inch in diameter. Within each piece were flecks of what only an expert could tell are tiny fragments of fabric.
Sometimes you really have to use your imagination to tell that theres a textile in there, she said.
Handling each piece very carefully so it doesnt crumble, Ordoñez uses a stereomicroscope to examine the yarn structure, the fabric structure, and the finish on each sample. She then brings the sample to the URI Sensors and Surface Technology Laboratory to use a scanning electron microscope to look in more fine detail at the plant material from which each piece of yarn was made.
I can look at the cell structure of the yarn and compare it to reference materials to identify the kind of plant each thread is made from, explained Ordoñez, who may spend as many as three days examining each fragment. Weve found threads made from cotton, sedge grasses, and all kinds of other plant fibers.
After completing the analysis of the textile samples in her lab this summer, the URI professor plans to return to the Copán ruins in 2009 to examine more fragments from the womans tomb and other sites. She said the working conditions at the site are challenging and the research facilities are primitive, but the site provides the best opportunity to learn more about the Mayan culture.
She may even do a study of Mayan statuary at the site to see what she can learn from the way that sculptors represented textiles from the period.
They were big on human sacrifice, too.
The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) is one of 2 wild South American camelids, along with the guanaco, which live in the high alpineous areas of the Andes. It is a relative of the llama and the alpaca. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every 3 years. When knitted together, the product of the vicuña's fur is very soft and warm. It is understood that the Inca raised vicuñas for their wool, and that it was against the law for any but royalty to wear vicuña garments.
Oh, I want a vicuna!
The textile issue is very interesting, insofar as they would have had the time to not only weave and make cloth, but to make fine, high-quality cloth.
Does this imply that they would have had substantial leisure time to teach, learn and make these items, or that at least some in their society would have?
Oblique play on the Lion King song Hakuna Matada
100 threads per inch = 10 mils /thread. AFAIK, the MesoAmericans had no equipment more sophisticated than the backstrap loom. If that is the case, such consistency and control is truly amazing!
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