Debi Cassuto, Bar Ilan University

The Social Context of Weaving in the Land of Israel: Investigating the Contexts of Iron Age II Loom Weights

Recent years have witnessed a rising interest, worldwide, in the identification and interpretation of gender in the archaeological record. These new trends have had some influence on the field of biblical archaeology as well, generating research which has brought the subject of women in ancient Israel to the forefront of academic discussion. Accentuating the roles of women in cultic, commercial, and household activities, such studies were founded mainly upon biblical and/or ethnographic data, while the use of archaeological data, when employed, was done so barely scratching the surface. The purpose of the present study is the identification of women within domestic settings through the interpretation of the archaeological finds. By conceptually ‘returning’ the artifacts to their find spots we can identify the areas within a dwelling where female-specific activities were performed, such as the production of textiles, i.e. weaving, as well as those for food preparation and cooking. Women have long been associated with the crafts of spinning and weaving particularly within the home, as holds true in traditional communities today as well. Historical texts and iconographical references are used to demonstrate the association of women with domestic textile production in the ancient Near East. Ancient societies assigned gender-specific attributes to paraphernalia associated with gender-specific activities, for example, the association of the spindle whorl and the weaving loom with feminine attributes. The numerous occurrences of loom weights, perforated clay weights, found in Iron Age II strata throughout the Land of Israel attest to the popularity of the warp-weighted loom at the time. By focusing primarily on the contexts of the loom weights, where they were found within the houses, and what artifacts, associated finds, were found together with them in the same proximities, patterns were interpreted employing analogous comparisons to ethnographic data and archaeological parallels. Thus enabling a reconstruction of the domestic use of space which denotes the daily lives of the inhabitants and reflects upon their perceptions of the world, their beliefs and their culture.

The results of this study, reveal that, albeit the similarity in ground plans across houses the utilization of space within the dwellings was not consistent. In fact, although a central activity area can be identified in each dwelling, the organization of activity areas indicates that they were not used in a similar fashion. These inconsistencies clearly indicate that the use of the ‘four-room house’ plan, during the Iron Age II, was a cultural norm and not a functional construct. The locations of loom weight clusters indicate that weaving was performed in different areas of the houses, including, as is indicated by their location and in their juxtaposition to roof rollers, on the rooftops. Female activity-areas were distinguishable in all of the houses investigated identifiable by the dispersion patterns of utensils used in the preparation of food (grinding tools) and weaving (loom weights). These were typically, yet not always, found in the central-activity rooms of the houses, signifying where women performed the majority of their quotidian tasks, as the focus of household activity. 

In summation, the results of my study have demonstrated the significance of the studying the small and more commonplace artifacts within their original contexts, and the contribution of such a research method to our understanding daily life in antiquity. Systematically, my research has identified the role of the Iron Age II woman at the core of all household activity, and how this role is manifestly reflected in the archaeological record.

Warp-weighted loom (Drawing by S. Bushee)

© April 2020

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