Maybe Choose Dry Cleaning for 2,700-Year-Old Fabric? (ca. 700 BC)

By: The Scribe on Saturday, May 26, 2007

During excavations at the town of Argos in Greece, archaeologists discovered a 2,700-year-old copper urn inside of a burial. The burial was oddly reminiscent of the elaborate cremation rituals for soldiers as described in Homer’s Iliad, but it was what they found inside of the urn that was the most shocking: a yellow, brittle material which could be nothing other than a piece of ancient fabric.

In places like Egypt and the Near East, it is quite common to find fabric from thousands of years ago, due to the dry climate which prevents humidity from causing organic fibers to decompose. However, in places like Greece and along the Mediterranean coast, organic material decomposes very easily, due to the high levels of humidity. Very few organic artifacts have been found in the past in Greece, making this small piece of fabric of enormous historical value.

Conservation experts explained that because the fabric was placed inside a copper burial container, which began to corrode over time, copper oxides from the urn were able to kill the microbes that normally destroy fabric. In order to learn as much as possible from this find, the fabric is scheduled for testing that will determine the what kind of fabric it is, and what weaving techniques were used.

The fabric was not the only item inside the urn – there were also dried pomegranates, ashes, and charred human bones. The actual burial itself is also unique, because cremation was not a normal practice in Argos during this time. Of the six burials that

were closely grouped together on this same plot of land, the urn was the only cremation burial. One possible explanation for this is that the person in charge of this burial had a personal desire to imitate the ‘heroic’ funerary custom as described in the Iliad, for the purpose of making this burial stand out among the others.

Since Argos is one of the cities mentioned in the Iliad as the home of a the great Mycenaean warrior-king Agamemnon, it is possible that the individual buried here thought himself associated with the legendary ruler in some way.

Want to read more?

The Iliad of Homer

Tomorrow: Ancient Jewelry


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