Ancient Middle East and North Africa

Ancient Middle East and North Africa

It is cited on various websites that the ancient Egyptians carried out punch needle embroidery using the hollow bones of birds for needles.

Akhmim is a city in Middle Egypt, which is historically known for its woven, and to a lesser extent embroidered and printed textiles. Thousands of textiles from the Roman period, and dating from approximately the third to sixth centuries AD, have been found in various excavations (official and unofficial). They were preserved due to the dry desert conditions.

The ancient Egyptians used a comparatively narrow range of decorative embroidery stitches. Identified to date, these are the blanket stitch, chain stitchrunning stitch, satin stitch, seed stitchstem stitch and the twisted chain stitch

There is a reference to what may have been (Attalic) embroidery, which was probably a form of goldwork embroidery, in Pliny the Elder’s (AD 23-79) Naturalis Historia. This series of encyclopaedic books was probably completed in c. AD 77.

Berenike is the name of an ancient Egyptian port on the coast of the Red Sea, some 260 km east of Aswan. The port dates from the time of Ptolemy II (285-246 BC) and was particularly active from the first century BC until the second centuries AD, when it was one of the main shipping centres in the trade between the Mediterranean, Arabia and India. By the seventh century AD, Berenike had been abandoned because of poor economic conditions.

The archaeological site of Kellis (modern day Ismant el-Kharab; ‘Ismant the ruined’) lies about 11 km northeast of Mut, the capital of the Dakhla oasis. Excavations at the site began in 1986, and from 1991 the Kellis excavations were carried out by Monash University, Australia. The main phases of occupation at the site date from the early to late Roman Periods (namely from the first to the fifth centuries AD).

The Dakhla oasis is one of the seven oases of Egypt’s Western Desert. It lies in the New Valley Governorate, about 350 km from the Nile, in the southwest of the country. Two excavations at the third to fifth centuries AD sites of Deir Abu Metta and Kellis have revealed a range of textiles, some of which are embroidered.

Deir Abu Metta is an archaeological site that lies about eight km southeast of the town of El-Qasr in the Dakhla oasis (one of the oases in the Western Desert of Egypt). Basically, the site consists of an ancient church, a settlement and a Christian cemetery. The earliest occupation phase dates to the fourth century AD or slightly earlier. The church appears to date to the earliest phases and was in use until the seventh century.

Dura Europos was a border city built on an escarpment above the Euphrates river. The site is located near the modern village of Salhiye in Syria. The city is believed to have been founded around 303 BC at an intersection of east-west trade routes between Central Asia/China, Iran and the Mediterranean Sea and a north-south route up and down the Euphrates.

El Bagawat lies about three km from El Kharg, the capital of the Kharqa oasis, in the Western desert of Egypt. Close to the settlement lies an early Christian cemetery. The cemetery consists of numerous domed, mud-brick mausoleums and underground galleries dating to the fourth century AD and later. These were built over an earlier Egyptian necropolis of pit graves.

El Hibeh is an archaeological site in the Beni Suef Governorate, on the east bank of the Nile, Egypt. The site was occupied since the Third Intermediate Period (1070-712 BC) until possibly early Islamic times (c. seventh century AD). The University of California, at Berkeley, USA, was excavating at the site from 2001.

The fortress of Halabiyeh, ancient Zenobia, lies along the Euphrates River near the modern city of Deir ez Zor, Syria, about 200 km northwest of another ancient site, Dura Europos. Halabiyeh is first mentioned in a list of Assyrian settlements from c. 1040 BC. The town became an important trading centre between east and west, and remained inhabited until at least the seventh century AD.

The ancient town of Kellis in Egypt (modern Ismant el-Kharab; ‘Ismant the ruined’) is an archaeological site that lies about 11 km northeast of Mut, the capital of the Egyptian oasis of Dakhla. The ancient settlement consists of a dominant temple complex surrounded by numerous mud-brick structures and is about one square km in size.

Kellis in Egypt is the old name for the modern-day site of Ismant el-Kharab, ‘Ismant the ruined’. It is an ancient settlement that lies about 11 km northeast of Mut, the capital of the Dakhla oasis. Excavations at Kellis began in 1986, and from 1991 the Kellis excavations were carried out by Monash University, Australia. The main occupation phases date from the early to late Roman Periods (first to the fifth centuries AD).

The Kharqa oasis is the most southern and largest of Egypt’s western oases. It is located about 200 km to the west of the Nile in the Libyan, or Western Desert. The oasis is about 160 km long and up to 80 km wide. The historic Darb el-Arbain trade route, running north-south between Middle Egypt (notably Assyut) and Sudan, passes through Kharqa. The oasis has been home to various ethnic groups since the early Dynastic period.

Nimrud is an ancient Assyrian city along the Tigris river, in northern Iraq. It was founded in the second millennium BC and remained occupied for about one thousand years. The ancient site is now known as Calah. In early 2015, much of the site was damaged by ISIS followers. The relevant textiles come from the 1988-1989 excavations directed by Muzahim Hussein, of the Iraqi Office of Antiquities and Heritage.

There is a small number of passages in the Old Testament, which (may) refer to textiles and garments and some may allude to embroidered objects and the embroiderers themselves. For example, in Exodus 38:23: "And the Lord commanded Moses; and with him was Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, a craftsman and designer and embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen" (King James version; see also Exodus 35:35).

The ancient city of Palmyra, Biblical Tadmor, lies in an oasis to the northeast of Damascus, in Syria. It was an important caravan city for goods being transported across the Syrian desert to and from the Eastern Mediterranean and Iran, Central Asia and China. The decline of Palmyra started in the early third century AD and by c. AD 800 much of the city had been abandoned. By the medieval period it was reduced to an oasis village. The site was seriously damaged by ISIS in the mid-2010s.

There is a reference to what is generally translated as 'Phrygian embroidery' in Pliny the Elder’s (AD 23-79) Naturalis Historia, which was completed in c. AD 77.

The archaeological site of Qasr Ibrim lies on a bluff overlooking the Nile, Upper Egypt, where it almost never rains, and so high above the river that it was never flooded. This allowed the organic remains to be almost totally preserved. The site was occupied for nearly 3000 years, until the ruling authorities officially ordered its abandonment in 1812.

Page 1 of 2