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Upper Paleolithic Textiles from Dzudzuana Cave


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Dyed Flax Fibers from the Upper Paleolithic
Wild flax fibers from Unit D, Dzudzuana Cave, Georgia

Wild flax fibers from Unit D, Dzudzuana Cave, Georgia

Image courtesy of Science/AAAS

Archaeological investigations at Dzudzuana Cave, in the Republic of Georgia, have recovered flax (Linum usitatissimum) fibers from four Upper Paleolithic occupations. The earliest of the occupations at Dzudzuana is dated between 26,000 and 32,000 radiocarbon years before the present (RCYBP) which calibrates to between 31,000 to 36,000 cal BP. The fibers are among the oldest evidence of the use of fiber technology, but unlike other examples, Dzudzuana cave offers details about the use of fibers unrecognized to date. The Dzudzuana Cave flax fibers have clearly been modified, cut, twisted and even dyed gray, black, turquoise and pink, most likely with locally available natural plant pigments.

Perishable materials, including cordage, nets, wood and textiles, have long been recognized as an important piece of hunter-gatherer technology in the Upper Paleolithic; but it is a technology that is nearly invisible to modern archaeologists because the organic materials are so rarely preserved. Some instances of cord and textile preservation include Iron Age bog bodies, the Bronze Age Ice Man, and Archaic period Windover Bog; but for the most part, organic fibers do not survive to the modern day.

Sources and Further Information

Hurcombe, Linda 2008 Organics from inorganics: using experimental archaeology as a research tool for studying perishable material culture. World Archaeology 40(1):83–115.

Kvavadze, Eliso, et al. 2009 30,000-Year-Old Wild Flax Fibers. Science 325:1359.

Lupo, Karen D. and Dave N. Schmitt 2002 Upper Paleolithic Net-Hunting, Small Prey Exploitation, and Women’s Work Effort: A View From the Ethnographic and Ethnoarchaeological Record of the Congo Basin. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 9(2):147-179.

Minturn, Leigh 1996 The Economic Importance and Technological Complexity of Hand-Spinning and Hand-Weaving. Cross-Cultural Research 30:330-351.

Soffer, Olga 2004 Recovering Perishable Technologies through Use Wear on Tools: Preliminary Evidence for Upper Paleolithic Weaving and Net Making. Current Anthropology 45(3):407-424.

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