Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Karina Grömer, Regina Hofmann-de Keijzer, Helga Rösel-Mautendorfer, Prähistorische Textilkunst in Mitteleuropa: Geschichte des Handwerkes und Kleidung vor den Römern. Veröffentlichungen der Prähistorischen Abteilung, 4. Wien: Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, 2010. Pp. 480. ISBN 9783902421500. €35,00.

Reviewed by Marie-Louise B. Nosch, The Danish National Research Foundation's Centre for Textile Research, Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen (nosch@hum.ku.dk)

Version at BMCR home site


The monograph Prähistorische Textilkunst in Mitteleuropa by archaeologist Karina Grömer (with important additional chapters by textile specialists Regina Hofmann-de Keijzer and Helga Rösel-Mautendorfer) is the first of its kind in European textile research. It is a comprehensive compilation of data concerning Central European textile production and clothing, which is founded solidly on the unique collections of archaeological textiles from the Hallstatt and Dürenberg assemblages. These textile finds are significant and recognised world wide as an exceptional source of information concerning Bronze Age and Iron Age /Pre–Roman Iron Age textile and clothing cultures. Despite their fame, no comprehensive study has ever examined them in detail or placed them in their Central European context.

The volume contains an introductory chapter ("Einführung", p. 11-42) on textile archaeology and conservation. Chapter two ("Handwekstechniken – von Faser zum Stoff", p. 43-220) is a comprehensive presentation of textile techniques and dyes. This data is discussed and contextualized in the synthetic chapters three and four, which take up relevant topoi such as producers, consumers, and division of labour, as well as the role of textiles not used for garment ("Das textile Handwerk in der Urgeschichte", p. 221-266; "Von Kleidung bis Heimtextil: Verwendung von Geweben in der Urgeschichte", p. 267-291). Chapter five is an overview of clothing in European prehistory, both from archaeological sources and iconography, and it concludes with a discussion of clothing and gender, status, values and social contexts ("Kleidung in mitteleuropäischen Urgeschichte", p. 291-419). The volume contains some very user-friendly elements which will enable it to reach scholars in archaeology, ethnology and history, who are not familiar with textile studies but interested in this field of research. These elements are in particular: the "Register" ("Namens-, Orts-, Sachregister", p. 464-473) and the "Glossary" (p. 424-428) explaining technical terms relevant for the field. The illustrations are well-made and it is a real pleasure to have such visual material displayed in more than 200 colour illustrations.

The Central European archaeological textiles are unique in their own right but they also constitute a vital link in the European research traditions between the important collections of North European archaeological textiles, especially from Denmark and Northern Germany, and the written and iconographic data from southern Europe documenting ancient clothing cultures and textile terminologies. The volume contains a source-critical and methodological reflection about the various types of data that must be gathered in order to draw a more complete picture of ancient textile production and clothing. This approach is important since data come from very different contexts and are of very different nature: e.g., graves versus settlements, or the garments of "Ötzi" compared to the garments from grave contexts or bog finds. The author's careful approach also allows her to rectify some current misunderstandings and wide-spread assumptions which are not based on a solid empiric data.

The work is well-grounded and represents a new generation of textile scholars. This is due to its combination of various scholarly traditions and unique source material. In addition, the work uses new methods from the sciences, such as new analytical tools for detecting dyes. The textile archaeological material is furthermore discussed in the light of experimental textile archaeology, and the author possesses rare craft knowledge of ancient textile techniques.

The volume's title in German is a little misleading: Prähistorische Textilkunst, Prehistoric Textile Art. Textilkunst must here be understood in the 19th century German sense of Kunst as derived from können, e.g., as in art and artisan. Indeed, the volume's focus is the textile craft ("Handwerk"), development, techniques, and technologies, in relation to other areas.

The archaeological textile finds are so exceptional that a broader international public should have access to the results and an English version would be a desideratum.

The archaeological material of Austrian textiles is without parallel in Europe, and the interpretations of these finds, combined with textile and costume research from other parts of Europe will definitely change the current discourse about central European Pre-Roman clothing, textiles and technology. The monograph likewise addresses our (modern?) perception about identity, and how gender, status and age could be expressed in Iron Age Europe. Thus, the volume contributes to the conceptualisation, interpretation and understanding of identities also outside its focus area of Austria, such as Northern Italy or Scandinavia and the British Islands.

The volume will potentially also become a valuable source for a larger public interested in archaeology and history of the Alpine region, as well a museum staff for exhibitions, and for didactic initiatives in museums. The multi- disciplinary approach will make the volume a relevant tool for classical archaeologists, prehistoric archaeologist, ethnologists, historians, and museologists. The volume makes a significant contribution to European research on technology, textiles, clothing and identity. It also highlights a landmark of Austrian archaeology, and illustrates how interdisciplinary research leads to new insights.

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