Archaeologist finds earliest wool production in all of Europe - study

In recent years there has been increased academic interest in textile production, particularly of wool.

 Flock of sheep at Tel Yarmuth (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Flock of sheep at Tel Yarmuth
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Archeologists in Montale, northern Italy, have found evidence of Bronze Age industrial wool manufacturing. A peer-reviewed study, published in the Journal of Archeological Science details precisely how researchers came to this conclusion.

"We understood that this was an intense production because of the large amounts of textile tools at the settlement. We then analyzed the teeth to better understand how the production of wool was organized."

Serena Sabatini, archaeologist and associate professor at the Department of Historical Studies.

Mineral analysis: Strontium

Strontium is a mineral commonly found in food and water which gets absorbed into plant and animal (including human) tissue. 

“Strontium values in teeth and the temporal bone accumulate in childhood and do not change in adulthood. This allows the determination of whether individuals spend their childhood in the area where they were buried or if they moved there as an adult or adolescent," Sabatini said.

A shepherd keeps watch over his grazing sheep in the Romanian mountain (credit: Wikimedia Commons)A shepherd keeps watch over his grazing sheep in the Romanian mountain (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

"It is similar for animals, and in this research project we have analyzed teeth from sheep and goats to investigate animal mobility in the landscape.”

The analyses showed that most of the animals raised in the Montale area also died there and thus were likely carefully managed by the local community. This gives further support to theories about large-scale wool production in Bronze Age Montale. 

One sheep, two sheep, how many sheep to make 1 kg. of wool?

Existing historical research from the region indicates that it took a flock of ten sheep a full year to produce 3 kg. of wool - a simple cloth of about 12 sq.m. required 4 kg. of raw wool. 

“You can understand immediately that organizing an economically sustainable and profitable production of wool fibers required managing large numbers of sheep flocks.”

Serena Sabatini

In recent years there has been increased academic interest in textile production, particularly of wool. Sabatini explained that the purpose of this particular study was "to reveal the importance of wool and the production of wool textiles in the European Bronze Age" as this field of research begins to develop.