Trace of Scotland's oldest piece of woven cloth found on Orkney

Traces of the cloth were found at the mighty Neolithic settlement and place of worship of Ness of Brodgar in Orkney. PIC: Dr Scott Pike.Traces of the cloth were found at the mighty Neolithic settlement and place of worship of Ness of Brodgar in Orkney. PIC: Dr Scott Pike.
Traces of the cloth were found at the mighty Neolithic settlement and place of worship of Ness of Brodgar in Orkney. PIC: Dr Scott Pike. | JPIMedia
Archaeologists believe the may have found evidence of the oldest piece of woven cloth in Scotland that was worn some 5,000 years ago.

A trace of the ancient piece of fabric has been found at Ness of Brodgar in Orkney, which was once a huge Neolithic settlement and place of worship.

While a piece of cloth would rarely last 5,000 years, what has been left is an impression of the fabric pressed into the wet clay of a pot.

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It is believed that the impression was made as the potter’s clothing pressed into the vessel, with some of the fabric’s individual fibres trapped in the clay.

The impression of the Z-shaped cord and indentations of the fibres on the clay pot. PIC: UHIThe impression of the Z-shaped cord and indentations of the fibres on the clay pot. PIC: UHI
The impression of the Z-shaped cord and indentations of the fibres on the clay pot. PIC: UHI | JPIMedia

To date, there is only one other piece of evidence suggesting the use of woven textiles in Neolithic Scotland - another clay imprint discovered in 1966 in Dumfries and Galloway.

Nick Card, director of the Ness of Brodgar excvation, said the exciting find added to the picture of how life was lived in Neolithic Orkney.

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Ness of Brodgar Site Director Nick Card said: “There is no evidence of textile tools available in Neolithic Orkney, suggesting textiles were made by hand, or using tools made with organic materials that have not survived in the archaeological record. This lack of material culture around textile production can help us to infer what techniques they may have been using.”

It is now believed that the people of Ness of Brodgar used coiled mats in the construction of clay vessels, given the number of pieces of broken pot base which carry the impressions of basketry.

Spiral mats may have been placed under the pot as it was being formed to ease it as it turned, it is believed.

The new discoveries have come to light as part of project started last year by the Archaeology Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands by Jan Blatchford and Roy Towers.

They used Reflectance Transformation Imagine, a technique that merges multiple photographs taken using various angle of light source, to create a highly detailed digital image of an object’s surface.

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The results reveal surface details not visible during normal examination.

“Work continues to document and interpret these impressions, which, it is hoped, will provide an invaluable insight into the fibre technology of the Neolithic,” Mr Card added.

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