I’m beginning to believe that history, like art, may be “in the eye of beholder.” And the further back in time we want to go, the more this is true.
I’m not talking about 100 years ago, or even 400 years ago, and maybe not even 2000 years ago, because we humans have a marvelous proclivity for recording ourselves. We’ve chiseled our likeness on every surface imaginable from a cave wall to a coin; written down our deepest thoughts, ideas, and dictums on animal skin parchment with the ink of berries; even encoded laws on stone and clay tablets. Something very deep inside all of us wants to be remembered.
As a result, the “material” objects left by past cultures really tell us a lot about what they believed about themselves and the world, and what they appreciated and valued. The problem is that the further back in time we go, the fewer of these objects we find, and putting together the “story” behind the material objects becomes something my sister calls MSU. That’s when the lack of facts surrounding an object or idea causes us to Make Stuff Up. Right?
For example, I can “google” enough subjects surrounding 100 B.C. (About 24,600,000 results in 0.25 seconds) to construct a pretty good idea of the state of life for the average Roman citizen, or even a barbarian or two wandering around outside the Empire. The basic stuff–the “material” goods of that time: fabrics, jewelry, pottery, tools, art–combined with all of the written works we have from this period
gives us a clear picture….well, we don’t have to resort much to MSU.
But the farther back we want to go to know what we as ancient people ate, drank, worked at, created, wore, cursed over, prayed over, made for decoration or traded for goods, the fuzzier the picture gets. For me, it all sort of runs together with old World History lessons. Since I started spinning, however, I find myself driven to create a better picture of the first fabrics and who wore them, how they were made, and what choices were available. Or at least understand how much of the story we do know, and how much is someone else’s version of MSU–Making Stuff Up.
I am going to start with the timeline I found at The New World Encyclopedia because it specifically marks the find in Israel of the oldest textiles anyone has uncovered. TIME magazine’s description^ of the textiles says, “Perhaps most remarkable are the fabrics, which are woven in eleven intricate designs, some resembling knotted macrame, others fine mesh.” Stay Tuned…
^Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,965493,00.html#ixzz0rMf9uGDt
*Images from www.AncientResource.com. Click on image to go to website.
7 thoughts on ““Material” Culture Tells the Story”
I love your blog (regardless of the fact that I am your sister)!
Hi Patti! I am so glad you are reading it and like it! I guess I am carrying on the tradition of recording my own thoughts and ideas (blogging is so much easier than writing on parchment!)
I love your explorations into ancient history–it’s like a spinning/history/anthropology blog. This is fascinating!
How DO you find the time?? I love this!