Models of looms and weavers in a 2100-years-old tomb

Subway construction works in Chengdu, Sichuan province of China, unearthed a tomb being more than 2100 years old, which contained small model looms being the earliest evidence on record of looms that could be used to weave patterns.

Site where the looms were found (by Tao Xie & Copyright Antiquity Publications Ltd.)

The tomb is believed to date to the times of the Western Han Dynasty through a find of a bronze coin which can be related to the times of reign of Emperors Jingdi (157-141 BC) and Wudi (141-88 BC). The tomb, measuring 7 by 2.5 by 3 meters,  belonged to a middle-age woman and consisted of separate compartments: one large room and four smaller beneath it. The large room held the remains of an approximately 50-year-old woman whose name was “Wan Dinu”, according to a jade seal outside the coffin. What’s interesting is that the seal was broken, suggesting that grave robbers had pilfered the grave’s contents shortly after the burial.

Reconstruction of a loom (by Tao Xie & Copyright Antiquity Publications Ltd.)

One of the small compartments under the grave held the four model looms, each about one-sixth the size of a regular loom.  Next to the discovered looms were devices for warping, rewinding and weft winding, along with 15 painted wooden figurines of four male weavers and nine female weaving assistants. Each of them is said to have a name written on the surface, which suggests that they represented real-life weavers. The figurines were carved in postures depicting the act of warping, weft winding and rewinding.

Digital reconstruction of the tomb (by Tao Xie & Copyright Antiquity Publications Ltd.)

According to the researchers, the model looms are the missing technological link responsible for the renowned Han Dynasty Shu jin silks, which are frequently found along the Silk Road, and were traded across Eurasia. Although it is unclear when and where the first looms were developed the Chinese researchers are sure that these loom models are among earliest pattern looms found around the world. Pattern looms are used to weave a complex kind of textile. They were used to create patterns by stringing up the weft (the crosswise yarn on the loom) and weaving the warp (the longitudinal yarn that is passed over and under the weft) through it. The experts state that the more advanced draw loom developed from pattern looms and was then introduced to the West, to Persia, India and Europe.

Photo of the discovery area (by Tao Xie & Copyright Antiquity Publications Ltd.)

(after Tao Xie,  Copyright Antiquity Publications Ltd. & Live Science)

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