Weaving

The process of weaving involves two basic layers of threads. Warp threads are held taut while the weft, or woof, thread is woven through the fixed warp. The warp threads were generally attached to two beams or to a beam and weights as part of the wooden loom. The woven cloth is the result of the weave created by the weft thread, wound around a wooden or bone shuttle, interlacing over and under the fixed warp threads, each time taking an alternative path and being subsequently pushed up or down to join the previously woven threads in an act known as “beating” for which a beater, a long flat wooden or bone rod, is used to tighten the weave. To facilitate the process of weaving, a heddle bar, to which loops of thread were attached, was constructed. This beam, located in the center of the loom where the weaving takes place, is attached by loops to the warp threads in different intervals, usually in pairs or singularly depending on the desired weave. When the heddle beam is raised, it creates a path known as a shed, through which the weft can easily be passed; and when it is lowered, it forms the opposite path. The Old Testament mentions this beam, manor orgim, in its description of the spear carried by Goliath (1Sam17:7). The understanding here is that the spear was equipped with a cord loop, or more likely several loops, similar to the heddle beam used by weavers.

The southern Levant is the region in which different types of looms, introduced by people from different cultures, converged. One of the earliest types likely to have been used in the region is the back-strap loom. This loom is the best candidate for producing the narrow, long strips or bands of cloth found in Neolithic contexts in Anatolia and Europe.One end of this loom was tied to an inanimate object such as a tree or post, while the other end was wrapped around the weaver’s waist. This type of loom is still used for making belts or strips of woven cloth. The horizontal two-beam loom, typical of the southern Levant, is still used by Bedouin women. This loom was spread out in a courtyard or other large space, where posts fixed into the ground held the two warp beams in place. The disadvantage of this type of loom is that it takes up space that might not always be available, particularly in urban environs. Furthermore, if set up in a courtyard or other outdoor space, the loom would be exposed to rain, limiting its efficiency during the rainy season. The horizontal two-beam loom is attested to in iconic depictions throughout the ancient Near East from Mesopotamia to Egypt, in both domestic and large r,organized workshop contexts. However, the absence of archaeological evidence for it and for the back-strap loom limits an understanding of their geographic range and of the periods during which they were in use.

In the Middle Bronze Age, a different type of loom, the vertical warp-weighted loom, appeared in the region. This loom is comprised of an upper warp beam placed on a wooden frame. The frame is either freestanding, with rear supportive beams placed into post holes, or constructed to lean against a wall, from which the warp threads hang,held taut by clay or stone weights tied to their ends just above the floor. The vertical warp-weighted loom requires less space than the horizontal two-beam loom. Perhaps more important, it facilitates the production of longer pieces of cloth as the finished material can be rolled onto the upper beam and additional threads added Lo the warp at the weights’ end. Present in the Middle Bronze Age,the vertical warp-weighted loom seems to disappear under Egyptian influence during the Late Bronze Age and then to reappear in the Iron Age. It remained in use until the end of the first century CE. In the southern Levant, loom weights were generally made of local clays that were either sun-baked or lightly fired. Using typological criteria, it is possible to place different forms of loom weights in the irrespective chronological periods and, in some cases,to identify them with particular ethnic entities. The appearance of pinched spool or reel-shaped loom weights at Early Iron-Age Ashkelon has been linked to the Aegean/Cypriote origins of the Philistine Sea Peoples. During Iron Age II, the perforated doughnut and spherical forms predominated but may be found mixed with other forms, such as perforated conical, pyramidal, and sometimes spool-shaped loom weights.