More about the project

krosno ciężarkowe, rys. M. Jagodzińska, pieczęć z grobu tolosowego A w Aghia Triada, przerys M. Jagodzińska za CMS II.1. 64 a

Introduction to the project

Complexity of relationships between Aegean textiles and textile production, and seals and sealing practices. The relations which are not investigated by this project are outlined in black and white blocks.
Author: A. Ulanowska

Textile production was one of the key crafts in Bronze Age Greece. It entailed complex technology, time-consuming labour, specialisation and, as a consequence, the textiles had a high economic value. This complexity, diversification of operational sequences in textile production and (commercial) redistribution, required producers to use elaborated scheduling patterns and management skills. The organisation of the Late Bronze Age Aegean industries can be traced through written documents (e.g. Linear B tablets from the Mycenaean palaces), weighing practices and archaeological discoveries of specialised workshops, textile tools, and dye-works.

But hitherto the administrative system based on the use of seals has not been sufficiently investigated as regards textiles and textile production. However, significantly, the earliest sealing practices can already be observed on textile tools and several clay sealings bear preserved textile imprints on the undersides. Moreover, the imagery of glyptic as a source of textile knowledge has also remained largely unnoticed. The published corpus of c. 12,000 published faces of seals and sealings, offers a rich body of evidence for this cross-disciplinary exploration.

Research objectives

The ‘Textiles and Seals’ research project therefore explores the significant and multiple, but largely ignored relations between textiles and textile production, and seals and sealing practices in Bronze Age Greece, from the Early to Late Bronze Age (c. 2650-1200 BCE). The project aims to identify the structure and meaning of these relationships by investigating:

  • the use of seals in the administration of textile production,
  • the use of textiles in sealing practices,
  • iconographic references to textile production on seals.

Its goal is to explain how textile production was administered, what types of textiles were used in sealing practices and in what way, and how and why textile production was reflected in the imagery of seals.

The relationship between textiles and seals revealed in this study offers, therefore, a new and more sophisticated understanding of how production was organised in Aegean societies and what were technical uses of textiles in administrative practices. It also reveals a new interpretation of seal imagery referring to textile production, its relation to the Near Eastern glyptic imagery, and its influence on graphic forms in the signs of the Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A and B scripts. It offers, as well, new insights into the symbolic role of textiles and their production. The main objectives of the project may be formulated as the following research questions to be answered by accomplishing the series of research tasks:

  1. What can sealing practices and archaeological contexts of seals and sealings tell us about textile technology, organisation and administration of textile production?
  2. How were various types of textile products  used in sealing practices and what are the technical parameters of those textiles?
  3. What types of textile production-related motifs can be recognized in the imagery of Aegean glyptic, and what iconographic conventions were chosen to indicate textile production?

Methodology and overview of the research activities

To achieve the goals a novel methodological approach is used. This integrates the methodology of textile studies and specialist textile knowledge (using methods and standards recently developed in textile archaeology and microscopy, e.g. Dino-Lite microscopy) with the general methodology of archaeological research (contexts of seals, contexts of textile tools, their spatial and diachronic distribution), and the iconographic approach to Aegean seals and writing.

Sourcing data

The evidence of seal-impressed textile tools, microscopically examined silicone casts of textile imprints on the undersides of clay sealings and iconographic motifs related to textile production in Aegean glyptic are collected in a ‘Textile and Seals” database, which allows further research and comparative analyses.

Methods and methodology of textile studies

The silicone casts of textile imprints on clay nodules are investigated using methods and standards recently developed in textile archaeology and microscopy, with such equipment as the Digital Dino-Lite microscope and DLSR camera. The preserved imprints are investigated and described in a manner reflecting their most important technical parameters: e.g. raw material (if recognisable), structure and parameters of constructing elements (e.g. diameter of thread, its twist angle – if visible), general structure (e.g. density – thread count per cm) and manufacturing technique (e.g. weaving, plaiting, basketry, wickerwork, leatherwork).
The specialist knowledge of textile technology offers a deeper insight into the practice of impressing seals on the textile tools, which is examined with regards to the production technique (e.g. spinning, weaving), the organisation of textile production and organisational modes adopted for allocation of materials, work scheduling and division of labour.

Methodology of iconographic approach to textile production imagery

Since the knowledge of textile technology has noticeably progressed and the detailed understanding of the chaîne opératoire has increased in recent years, iconographic references to textiles are more visible in ancient iconography. The iconographic references to textiles on Mesopotamian seals and on Scandinavian gold foils prove that many details of the physical reality of textile production were rendered in iconographic conventions adopted for small-sized representations. Therefore, the iconography of Aegean seals should also be carefully re-examined in relation to textile production. The key methodological issues, i.e. the basic conventions and constraints that existed in Aegean glyptic representation(s); the role that seal imagery played in Aegean societies, will need to be addressed in a critical manner. Each and every motif potentially related to textile production is to assessed with scholarly rigour and pre-existing identifications and interpretations of motifs are thoroughly evaluated.

The decoding of glyptic motifs will be based on the following, new assumptions:

  • Textile tools and raw materials may be recognised based on knowledge of prehistoric and traditional textile technology. Their identification may be further supported by iconographic comparanda with other arts/cultures, specifically the conventions adopted for small-scale representations, e.g. in Mesopotamian glyptic, should be considered as possible comparanda.
  • Textile-related motifs already recognised, e.g. loom weights and the warp-weighted loom, should be compared and cross-checked with other motifs represented on a seal face/faces, in order to determine if any textile-related combinations of motifs existed.
  • Possible classification of procedural sequences in the chaîne opératoire (e.g. subsequent works, technical gestures of textile workers required by spinning or weaving, and textile tools) into iconographic conventions should be investigated.

The decoded motifs relating to textile production will be collected in the Textiles and Seals database (link).


Statistics is used to examine if any potential, consistent iconographic patterns exist in Aegean glyptic, that might suggest the presence of set iconographic programmes relating to textile production. Textile imprints on clay are examined according to their measurable parameters, such as diameter, twist angle, production techniques and potential raw materials.

Methodology of iconographic approach to writing

The influence of Aegean iconography on the form of certain Linear B logograms for animals, plants and agricultural products has already been demonstrated. Also, the graphic forms of a warp-weighted loom and warp-weighted loom-woven fabrics have already been recognised in Hieroglyphic signs and Linear A and B logograms connected with textile production. Therefore, other textile and textile production-related motifs in Aegean glyptic are examined in relation to the pictographic features of the Aegean script signs, especially the signs which were engraved on seals.

Expected impact

The relationship between textiles and glyptic revealed in this project offers a new and more sophisticated understanding of the organisation of textile production, in which the use of seals and sealings is included, and of how various textile tools were subject to administrative practices. The analysis of textile imprints on clay provides new insights into Aegean textiles, their structure and parameters, and technical uses.

The project brings new interpretations for the iconography of Aegean seals by explaining several motifs in relation to textile production. It examines how the physical reality of textile production was compressed into iconographic conventions and how these conventions correspond to the iconography of textile production in other cultures, specifically in Bronze Age Mesopotamia and Anatolia. It investigates how the iconographic conventions may have been adopted in the praxis of writing and which were subsequently transferred into Hieroglyphic signs and Linear A and B logograms.