Textiles Lay Bare Jewish History

Article excerpt


A British team is helping to save one of the world's most important and historically controversial collections of ancient textiles.

The material comes from the clothes worn and fabrics used by Jewish resistance fighters who, 2,000 years ago, committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.

The suicide pact, in which 1,000 men, women and children killed themselves, was the last act of the Jewish Revolt against Rome - the great uprising in which the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and which, to a great extent, marked the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora.

Today the site of the mass suicide - the spectacular ancient desert fortress of Masada - has become for Israelis a potent symbol of ancient roots and modern statehood.

Many of the Masada textiles - perfectly preserved by thedesert environment - are being conserved by Britain's Textile Conservation Centre at Hampton Court Palace, west London, and are now being exhibited at the British Museum.

At one level, the analysis of the textile material is yielding fascinating new information about international trade and fashion in the first century AD and about life in Masada itself. For instance, the research has found that about 5 per cent of the textiles were imported, half of which appear to have come from western Europe, possibly including Britain. …