Quantum Leap #2 (Speculative): Integrating Beads into the Structure of a Textile
Time: Upper Paleolithic Era, Gravettian Culture, ca. 25,000 BCE - ca. 18,000 BCE (?)
Place: Central and Eastern Europe (?)
It’s one thing to stitch beads to the surface of a textile structure, as discussed in Quantum Leap #1, and quite another to string them onto the fibers of the textile.
From my point of view, it does not matter whether the textile is created with a single thread or with multiple threads; whether the textile is looped, twined, netted, plaited or woven; or whether the beads are used to form connections or are carried passively on the fibers. A single concept is in play: beads are integrated into the structure of the textile.
It stands to reason that this leap might have originated with the Gravettian culture of the European Upper Paleolithic, perhaps between ca. 25,000 - 20,000 BCE. (I doubt that I am the first to suggest this).
According to Olga Soffer, James Adovasio, David Hyland and others, Gravettian women in Central and Eastern Europe were creating complex, plant-based textile structures requiring knowledge of netting, weaving, plaiting and other techniques. The textiles and baskets made from these structures "...may have been seen as 'symbols of excellence,' serving as important signifiers in prestige economies and status demarcations" (O. Soffer, J.M. Adovasio and D.C. Hyland, "The Well Dressed 'Venus': Women's Wear ca. 27,000 B.P." [accessed May 28, 2015]).
As we saw in Quantum Leap #1, beads of mammoth ivory and other materials may also have signified identity and prestige during the Eurasian Upper Paleolithic.
Surely Gravettian women might have thought to string beads onto the fibers of their textiles and baskets? As far as I know, no proof has been found; thus, exactly when this quantum leap occurred remains uncertain.
However, we might consider the remains of a shell bead cap found on the head of a man buried at Arene Candide, a cave on Italy's Ligurian coast. Radiocarbon tests indicate that the man was interred ca. 22,000 - 21,000 BCE (P.B. Pettitt, M. Richards, R. Maggi, V. Formicola, "The Gravettian Burial Known as the Prince ["Il Principe"]: new evidence for his age and diet." Accessed May 28, 2015).
As to how the beads were connected, we can only speculate.
Maybe they were strung on a long string that was wrapped around the man's head in a spiral fashion, in which case the "cap" would not survive intact if it were removed from the head. In other words, the strand of shells create what amounts to the illusion of a cap.
Alternatively, the beads could have been stitched to a ground made of an animal hide, textile, matting or basketry.
Or the beads could have been connected with a more complex technique, perhaps one that involved netting, twining or coiling. If so, "The Prince" might be wearing the earliest surviving evidence of the integration of beads into a textile structure.
If not - I am still trying to locate the earliest conclusive evidence of the integration of beads into a textile structure.
(The text above is copyright Valerie Hector 2015. All rights reserved.)