Wool Economy in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean

Abstract : Old Babylonian texts from the first half of the 2nd millennium BC dealing with trade often suggest that Mesopotamia is the land of wool. For scholars who travelled in this area from the middle of the 19th century, it is easy to understand why. The environment allows people to observe numerous herds of sheep grazing in the steppe or desert areas surrounding the Mesopotamian plain. Civilizations of the ancient Near East are supposed not to change over millennia. But this assumption is too short sighted to explain the whole evolution of the wool economy. However, with the introduction of interdisciplinary studies in archaeology and history, we know that herding practices or uses of wool in Antiquity are synonymous with cultural behaviors which need to be understood on scientific grounds in a dynamic perspective. The same situation can be observed in the Aegean, although the historical frame is shorter. Till now, despite the fact that textile research in Europe is an interdisciplinary and international discipline, it is paradoxically carried out mainly by scholars in isolation, in universities, museums, and laboratories. During the past decade, new analytic methods have been developed in the area of textile research and the archaeology of sheep husbandry, as exemplified by the 2010 European Science Foundation (ESF) Exploratory Workshop organized by M. Gleba and C. Solazzo, 'Archaeology of Sheep Domestication: New Approaches', which dealt with European historical periods. Therefore, it now appears essential to explore the origins and beginnings of the wool economy in the Mediterranean and the ancient Near East, where, remarkably enough, we lack any knowledge of the stages leading up to large-scale textile manufacture. The data provided by archaeology, archaeozoology, and philology needed to be brought together into a united historical perspective. There was in fact no prior systematic study of the multiple aspects of wool in the economies of the various Near Eastern and Aegean states from the beginnings of writing until the end of the 1st millennium BC. Scholars never before had the opportunity to compare their approaches and their conclusions. One of the main goals of the conference, whose proceedings are published in the present book, was thus to make colleagues aware of the enormous potential of such an interdisciplinary approach, which can revitalize historical research on technology, economy, and the environment in ancient Near Eastern studies.
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Catherine Breniquet, Cécile Michel. Wool Economy in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean. Wool Economy in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean: from the Beginnings of Sheep Husbandry to Institutional Textile Industry, 17, ⟨Oxbow Books⟩, pp.1-11, 2014, Ancient Textiles Series, 9781782976318. ⟨halshs-01226052⟩

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