Forms of textile preservation

In archaeology

Because of their organic matter, textiles deteriorate faster than non-perishable objects. However, they are sometimes preserved in several forms and are discovered during archaeological excavations. These preservations depend on several elements before and after their burial. Thus, organic matter may not be deteriorated or, on the contrary, completely transformed in contact with other materials. The following list shows the different forms of textile preservation:

  • the not deteriorated form (flexible)
  • the mineralisation
  • the carbonisation
  • the imprint
  • the calcification

This also applies to other organic objects (wood, leather, feathers, fur, seeds, etc.).

Burying conditions are often “extreme”: very dry, very cold, humid environments, in burnt layers or in contact with degrading metal objects (acidic environment). A sudden change in the environment can immediately affect the integrity of textiles and deteriorate them, or even completely destroy them. That is why we must be very careful when they are discovered on the excavation site. First Aid for the excavation of Archaeological textiles – a handbook for field archaeologists – explains the first steps when textiles are discovered and how to package them. The most important thing is to keep the conditions of the environment of the burying at the best during packaging and not to try to clean the textiles. Moreover, the size of the fragments is not proportional to the amount of information they can potentially deliver (Gillis, Nosch, 2007, p. 7-10; Wild 1988, p. 7-12). This is why it is necessary to pay attention to the packaging of textiles (avoid abrasive surfaces, wedge fragments with foam for transport, etc.) and to contact specialist archaeologists for their study.