New Evidence for the Origins of Textile Production in Bronze Age Cyprus. (Notes & News)

By Webb, Jennifer M. | Antiquity, June 2002 | Go to article overview
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New Evidence for the Origins of Textile Production in Bronze Age Cyprus. (Notes & News)

Webb, Jennifer M., Antiquity


The Zintilis Collection of Cypriot antiquities, currently housed in Nicosia and Amsterdam, contains an item (Inv. Z.776) of considerable interest for understanding the origin and development of textile technology in Cyprus. It is a metal spindle with an attached clay whorl and substantial remains of spun thread adhering to the shaft. The spindle and whorl were purchased over 40 years ago in their present condition (i.e. with the whorl fitted onto the shaft and corroded in that position) and are thought to have been found in a tomb in the southwest of the island. The shape, fabric and decoration of the whorl leave no doubt that it and, by association, the spindle date to the Early or Middle Cypriot Bronze Age.

In recent years there has been much discussion of the techniques employed by ancient spinners in Cyprus and the origin of the spinning and weaving technologies used on the island in the Bronze Age (Frankel & Webb 1996: 193-5; Frankel et al. 1995: 43-4; Webb & Frankel 1999: 39-42; Crewe 1998). In the absence of representational data and actual spindles (most of which must have been of wood), arguments for particular spinning techniques have relied on secondary analyses of whorl types and patterns of wear. The Zintilis spindle is the first example of its kind from the Early and Middle Cypriot periods. It is complete, has differentiable ends and both whorl and fibre intact. It provides a clear indication of what ancient Cypriot spindles looked like and throws new light on the type of spinning practised and the way in which whorls were mounted on the spindle.

Description and Chronology

The spindle is of copper or bronze and measures 29 cm in length (FIGURE 1). It has a plain shaft, circular in section and tapering to both terminals. A spiral groove extends 40 mm from the upper terminal, winding three times around the shaft (FIGURE 2). A truncated biconical clay whorl with rounded carination and straight sides is fixed by corrosion below the midpoint of the metal shaft, with the wide flat terminal uppermost (FIGURE 1). The whorl is of buff clay with a worn lustrous black slip, decorated with three pairs of two parallel angled lines on the lower body and four sets of two parallel angled lines on the upper terminal. Some abrasion is present around the perforation on the lower terminal. At the mid-point of the spindle are traces of fine organic fibre wound around the shaft for a length of 65 mm and now corroded onto the metal. The maximum diameter of the spindle (with fibre) is 7 mm. The diameter of the spindle at the upper terminal is 3 mm and at the lower terminal 3.5 mm. The whorl is 21 mm high with a maximum diameter of 35 mm. The diameter of the whorl perforation at the upper terminal is 10 mm, at the lower terminal 13 mm. The combined weight of spindle, whorl and fibre is 81.2 g. The object has been cleaned and fully conserved.


The whorl belongs to Crewe's Type IIIc4 (truncated biconical with a curved carination, one end flat, the other rounded) (Crewe 1998: 22, figure 4.1). It is relatively small, falling below average height and diameter measurements of excavated whorls of similar date from Marki Alonia (Frankel & Webb 1996: 192), Alambra Mouttes (Mogelonsky & Bregstein 1996: 208-10, table 22) and Episkopi Phaneromeni (Swiny 1986: 112, 114, tables 6 & 8) and in the bottom percentile of all prehistoric Bronze Age Cypriot whorls studied by Crewe (1998: figure 6.3). The diameter of the central perforation, however, is large relative to that of the whorl (compare Swiny 1986: 112-14, tables 6-8). The widening of the perforation from one terminal to the other (10 to 13 mm) is also greater than usual (see Swiny 1986: 112-14, tables 6-8 where the difference is rarely more than 1 mm; and Crewe 1998: 12). This is partly a result, however, of surface attrition at the rim of the perforation on the lower terminal. The whorl may be assumed to be relatively light (less than 20 g), although its weight independent of the spindle/whorl combination could not be ascertained.

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New Evidence for the Origins of Textile Production in Bronze Age Cyprus. (Notes & News)


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