“THEFBO - The Significance of Archaeological Textiles”, 24–25 February 2021, online conference - A Summary by M. Andonova and K. Grömer

“The Significance of Archaeological Textiles”, the final conference of the THEFBO project was held online between 24th and 25th February 2021 due to the requirements during the Covid-19 pandemic. The content of the conference was aligned with key topics of the THEFBO project, which deals with the significance of prehistoric textiles in the context of early agriculturally oriented settlements in Central Europe. It captured four thematic sessions, with almost 240  contributors from Europe and far beyond (including Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, India and Russia). The online format was streamed via a conference platform and possibilities for Q&A panels were given in the chat channel, following each presentation. Options of taking the word in person via microphone and camera were offered at the end of each session, so many  could be answered.


A welcoming note by C. Wolf, the President of the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in Baden-Württemberg opened the conference day, followed by a short overview from Johanna Banck-Burgess, being the THEFBO-project’s leader. The first session for the day commenced with a presentation by the THEFBO team, outlining the preliminary results from the analysis of the Neolithic finds and provided some insights on the scientific studies dedicated to this material. This first paper was presented by Sebastian Million (LAD, Hemmenhofen) and D. Mischka (FAU, Erlangen). The second talk in this session was delivered by J. Banck-Burgess (LAD, Esslingen) and focused on terminological aspects, when talking on archaeological textiles. The third presentation by H. Igel and J. Banck-Burgess discussed the processing of wood bast and linen. S. Harris (University Glasgow) delivered the closing paper of this session, which questioned material properties of the raw materials, chosen for making textiles at Must Farm.


The second session consisted of four talks, dedicated to the vegetal raw material for making textiles. First B. Gramsch discussed the cords, ropes and nets from Mesolithic-Neolithic Friesack. Second, M. Herero-Otal, S. Romero-Bruges and R. Pique (Autonomous University of Barcelona) presented the plant material for fibre-based items at three sites of the Neolithic and Iron Age Iberian Peninsula. The third talk by O. Nelle and E. Marinova-Wolf (LAD, Hemmenhofen) addressed the significance of the lime trees in prehistoric European landscapes. The last talk of this panel was presented by D. Gross (Museum Gottorf), M. Zanon (CAU, Kiel), U. Schmolcke (Museum Gottorf) and H. Lübke (Museum Gottorf) and focused on the Early Neolithic plant management in northern Germany.


The two sessions of the first conference day were viewed by more than 220 viewers. There were numerous questions queried after each talk, including what is the best way to transport a prehistoric textile find; are ropes and objects shaped with wood bast falling into the category of textiles; why oak bast is not great for making textiles and was wood bast used at all at Must Farm. The questions concerning the dedicated to raw-materials Session 2, covered the role of cattails in fibre-based crafts; were lime and hazel trees promoted during the Prehistory. The above and many more interesting discussions happened at the Concluding discussion panel of Day 1. An interesting solution was offered by the organisers, immediately after the end of the discussion – an online platform was used for informal gathering and chat around… textiles!


The second conference day consisted of another two interesting sessions. The first one was the longest for the whole event and consisted of six presentations. Session 3 started with H. Stäuble (LFA, Saxony) and his talk of Early Neolithic wells, their construction and the findings they contained. The session continued with J. Klügl (Culture Service of Canton Bern), G. di Petro, A. Hafner (University of Bern) and their presentation on the remarkable Neolithic bow case from the Bernese Alps. The next talk was delivered by R. Gubler (Culture Service of Canton Bern) and remained at the same Alpine region, but discussed objects of wood, bast and bark retrieved from the Alpine ice patches. After the coffee break, Session 3 continued with I. Franz, who discussed basketry skeuomorphism amongst the Neolithic Catalhöyük pottery. Next came I. Matuschik (LAD, Stuttgart) exploring the link between organic containers and pottery shapes along the shores of Neolithic Lake Constance. The closing talk of this session was offered by K. Grömer (Natural History Museum, Vienna), who discussed the link between the craft of cordage and the pottery during the Bronze Age of Central Europe.


The last fourth session, consisted of three talks, starting with M. Siennicka (University of Göttingen), who brought us to the Bronze Age Aegean flax and wool as sources for textile production. The next presentation remained at the wool topic and the Aegean, but explored the clay sealings’ textile imprints; it was delivered by A. Ulanowksa (University of Warsaw). The closing talk was authored by M. Baioni (Museum of the Sabbia Valley, Italy), M. Gleba (LMU, Munich), C. Mangani (Museum of Rambotti) and R. Micheli (Archaeological Service of Trieste) and discussed the textile findings of the Garda Lake in Italy.


Day 2 of the conference, being the longest, offered more questions and increased discussions. For this reason, there was a separate discussion panel offered by the end of the day where all questions were grouped into different sub-topics and were then answered in their cluster. Some of the queries included details on the Neolithic wells’ construction, insights on the conservation and forthcoming exposition of the bow case, the strategy of research at the Alpine ice patches, laboratory approaches for sampling sealing impressions and many others.


A charming idea for the lunch break was the virtual exhibition of textile finds that have been part of the THEFBO project – this also included a virtual visit to the rooftop of the building. Although being a challenging task for the THEFBO organization team to plan and conduct the conference as online conference - with creative ideas (the lunch break) and professional technical support by Leipziger Messe GmbH they managed to render this a wonderful experience to all speakers, contributors and the worldwide audience.


The papers presented during “The Significance of Archaeological Textiles” will be published later in 2022 in a joint volume, dedicated to this insightful two-day conference.


By Mila Andonova* and Karina Grömer**

*Curt Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry (CEZA), Mannheim, Germany

** Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria




The everyday utensils of former agriculture oriented settlements around the prehistoric lakeside were, to a large extent, textile products of the natural environment. Functional textiles were used in everyday subsistence which likewise helped the settlement carry out tasks that were indispensable in the context of sedentary lifestyles.
Perhaps a little provocative but essentially the question arises as to what extent sedentariness would have been possible without textiles simply because there is, so far, no other material that is as versatile as textile raw material.

Wednesday | 24 February

Thursday | 25 February