Dead Sea Scroll textiles at the TRC

The cigarette box (TRC 2019.2410) originally filled with Qumran 1 textile fragments. The hand writing is that of Elisabeth Crowfoot.

The cigarette box (TRC 2019.2410) originally filled with Qumran 1 textile fragments. The hand writing is that of Elisabeth Crowfoot.

On Saturday, 2nd November 2019, Gillian Vogelsang wrote:

In the early 1980’s, I was given a small cigarette box (TRC 2019.2410) filled with textile fragments. The box and its contents were donated by Elisabeth Crowfoot, the daughter of Grace Crowfoot and one of my teachers. It turned out that the textile fragments originated from Qumran 1, a cave in the Judaean Desert, east of Jerusalem, now in the Westbank territory, Area C.

This and other caves had become famous from the mid-1940s following the discovery of the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls, which were deposited in the caves at the beginning of our era (late 3rd century BC until 1st century AD) by a group of Jewish sectarian settlers.

The scrolls include some of the oldest known extant Hebrew texts that were later included in the Hebrew Bible, as well as many related manuscripts. In total the scrolls and fragments thereof represent some 900 different manuscripts.

Detail of a textile from Qumran Cave 1. It was used to protect one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It dates to between 3rd cent. BC and 1st cent. AD.  The textile is made of flax, with s-spun threads, and an open tabby weave (TRC 2019.2411). The photograph was made with a Dino Lite microscope, with a magnification of x49.9.

Detail of a textile from Qumran Cave 1. It was used to protect one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It dates to between 3rd cent. BC and 1st cent. AD. The textile is made of flax, with s-spun threads, and an open tabby weave (TRC 2019.2411). The photograph was made with a Dino Lite microscope, with a magnification of x49.9.

Almost all of the Dead Sea Scrolls are now housed in the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Before being deposited into the caves, the scrolls were put into pottery jars and textiles were used as padding and sometimes also as a sealing cover. After some two thousand years, the first of the jars were rediscovered in 1946.

In early 1949 the textiles from Qumran 1 were examined at the Norfolk Flax Establishment (England), and the material was identified as linen. A total of 77 plain and decorated textiles were catalogued and described by Grace Crowfoot (1879–1957) and published in 1955. It would appear that the textiles were torn up fragments of garments, such as tunics and mantles.

 

The fragments now in the TRC Collection were not included in the publication, presumably because they were regarded as simply being too small to be of any interest. Recently the TRC was approached by a research team from King's College London, who are studying all the textile fragments from the Qumran Caves (https://dqcaas.com), within a Leverhulme international project for the study of dispersed Qumran Caves artefacts and archival sources.

Detail of a textile from Qumran Cave 1. It was used to protect one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It dates to between 3rd cent. BC and 1st cent. AD.  The textile is made of flax. The detail shows a rolled hem, with overcast stitching. The sewing thread is a 2-ply (Z,2s) (TRC 2019.2415). The photograph was made with a Dino Lite microscope, with a magnification of x26.6.

Detail of a textile from Qumran Cave 1. It was used to protect one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It dates to between 3rd cent. BC and 1st cent. AD. The textile is made of flax. The detail shows a rolled hem, with overcast stitching. The sewing thread is a 2-ply (Z,2s) (TRC 2019.2415). The photograph was made with a Dino Lite microscope, with a magnification of x26.6.

All of the Qumran textiles in the TRC collection are made from flax and have been s-spun. There is some indication of splicing, but this is not common (unlike Egyptian linen textiles). There are a variety of qualities, ranging from coarse (TRC 2019.2411) to fine (TRC 2019.2424).

There is also a variety of tabby weave forms, including (a) open tabby weave, (b) even tabby weave and (c) warp-faced tabby weaves. Several selvedges are present and it is interesting to note in one case how the original weaver went from a warp-faced selvedge into an even weave tabby ground (TRC 2019.2412).

There are also various hems present, all of which are rolled and stitched using both overcast stitching and simple hem stitching. In some cases a single, s-spun linen thread has been used, on other occasions a 2-ply (Z,2s) thread. In several cases a light blue linen thread was used for stitching the hems.

 

One piece (TRC 2019.2427) appears to be the 'button' from the top of a neck opening, while another fragment (TRC 2019.2429) has the remains of a fringed edge.

References:

  • Crowfoot, Grace Mary . (1951). "Linen textiles from the Cave of Ain Feksha". Palestine Exploration Quarterly, vol. 83, pp. 5–31.
  • Crowfoot, G. M. (1955). "The Linen Textiles." In D. Barthélémy and J. T. Milik (eds.), Qumran Cave I. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, I, pp. 18-38. Oxford, 1955.

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