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Archaeology: Was nettle the new black in the Bronze Age?

Scientific Reports

September 28, 2012

A 2,800-year-old textile from Denmark, thought to be made of local flax, is actually made of imported nettle fibres, research published in Scientific Reports shows. The findings hint that the production of woven plant fibre textiles in Bronze Age Europe was based not only on cultivated textile plants, but also on the targeted exploitation of wild plants.

The production of plant fibre textiles in ancient Europe, especially woven textiles for clothing, is generally thought to be linked to the development of agriculture through the use of cultivated textile plants, such as flax and hemp. The Lusehoj textile, which dates to around 2,800 years ago, was found in a burial mound in Voldtofte, Denmark. Previous research suggested the textile was made of a local, cultivated plant, probably flax, but distinguishing between flax, hemp and nettle fibres has remained challenging.

Bodil Holst and colleagues re-analyzed the textile using polarization microscopy and strontium isotope analysis. Their results suggest that the Lusehoj textile is made of non-local nettle fibres, probably from Austria. As flax agriculture was known in the region at the time, this shows that wild nettle fibres were deliberately chosen over flax fibres. The study challenges previous assumptions that textile production in the Bronze Age in northern Europe was solely based on local and non-specialized production.

doi: 10.1038/srep00664

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