Textile Technology

Extremely well preserved Mesolithic baskets from a cave in southern coastal Spain (Cueva de Los Murciélagos) dating to 6300 BCE. These are made from Esparto grass.

Mesolithic Textiles (Hunters, Fishers, Gatherers) 11,000 to 4000 BCE

(September 27, 2023) The people of Mesolithic Europe could weave all sorts of things. The image on the left shows a basket. They also could make make cordage (string and rope) and even form them into fishing nets and traps. Also found have been bows, arrows. The main sites of these discoveries for these have been:

  1. Tybrind Vig (5,400–4,000 BCE Denmark), 
  2. Friesack (7,700 BCE, Germany) 
  3. Dabki 9 (5,000 BCE Poland), 
  4. Zamostje 2 (6,200 BCE, Russia) 
  5. Santa Maira Caves (11,200–8,200 BCE, Spain) 


Francisco Martínez-Sevilla and all (Sept. 27, 2023) The earliest basketry in southern Europe: Hunter-gatherer and farmer plant-based technology in Cueva de los Murciélagos (Albuñol), Science AdvancesVol 9, Issue 39. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.adi3055

Esparto Grass Distribution

Modern Esparto Grass Weave Close-Up

Esparto Grass is flat, long, and tough. Humans have used it in weaving from Mesolithic times to the present. Photo from: https://depositphotos.com/photo/esparto-grass-handcraft-texture-traditional-spain-5559991.html

Neolithic Weaving

The weaving from the Neolithic period shows more complex weaving incorporating rope-like strands. The stick on the right is a digging stick made from  a branch of the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) which is a shrub that produces a dense, hard wood. From: Martínez-Sevilla and all (Sept. 27, 2023) 

Neolithic Sandals

The Neolithic farmers seem to have been the first to weave sandals (3,600 BCE). Of the whole set of materials studied, 50.77% (33 of 65) of the objects indicate use of crushed esparto leaves, 41.54% (27 of 65) show raw esparto, and a further 7.69% (5 of 65) contain a combination. Crushed esparto are esparto stems which have been soaked for months and then beaten to remove all non-fibrous material.

The top T-frame tool is a hammer made from a split olive wood branch which is another dense wood. From Martínez-Sevilla and all (Sept. 27, 2023) 

The more permanent Neolithic farming villages were located on raised areas in marshlands with many villages building their houses on stilts. This is a pattern seen from Çatalhöyük onwards because occasional Spring flooding kept the soil fertile. Villages not on marsh lands has to move every few years because Druid civilization farmers practiced slash and burn agriculture which eventually robbed the soil of its fertility. Not until the arrival of the Indo-Europeans with their better farming practices (probably crop rotation and manuring fields) did permanent non-marsh villages become established. These wet conditions allowed their organic material goods to be preserved. This marsh living also implies that malaria had not yet appeared in Europe. Image from the wonder artist Burninggraph at:  https://www.artstation.com/artwork/bkndE

Textile Technology

Baskets were also being made by the time Neolithic farmers appeared. The mortuary cave of Nahal Hemar (7,900 BCE) has yielded fragments of rope and basketry made from rushes (Phragmites australis), reeds (Juncus sp.) and flax (Linum usitatissimum). Also from mortuary contexts are textiles and basketry from Çatalhöyük, Turkey, dated to 5500–5000 BCE  and several textile fragments of hemp (Cannabis sativa) or flax dated to 7600–7300 BCE from Tell Halula, Syria.

Numerous European Neolithic lake sites have preserved objects made from perishable materials. Examples include Charavines, on Lake Paladru, France, with ropes, textiles and baskets dating to 4000 BCE, the use of lime (Tilia sp.) bast and flax at Arbon-Bleiche, Lake Constance, Switzerland, dated to 3400–3300 BCE. Also in Switzerland, excavation of the Egolzwil settlement, located on the former Lake Wauwilermoos, yielded textiles, cordage and basketry made of flax, and oak and lime bast. Artefacts of lime and Clematis sp. bast have also been recovered from La Draga (5300–5000 BCE), on the shores of Lake Banyoles, Spain.

Objects made of organic materials have also been preserved in extremely arid European contexts. Sandals and baskets made from esparto grass (Stipa tenacissima) and dated c. 4800–4000 BCE were recovered from the Cueva de los Murciélagos in Albuñol, Spain. Finally, preserved in the frozen conditions of the high Alps, the textiles and other objects associated with the ice mummy known as ‘Ötzi’ (3300 BCE) also deserve mention. These include artefacts made of lime bast: a dagger sheath, cords and a knotted net of twined strings, as well as shoe components.


La Marmotta Marsh Village Site is now located just offshore in Lake Bracciano, Italy just north of Rome. The site lies approximately 300 meters from the modern shoreline at a depth of 11 meters  (8 meters of water and 3 meters of sediment). Lake Bracciano is connected to the Tyrrhenian coast by the river Arrone which would have provided access to the sea. Three phases or levels have been defined, dating to between c. 5700 and 5150 BCE. Ths village used canoes almost 11 meters in length.