Coiled Basketry Through Time in Ancient Egypt
Page M. Strong
Written for Egyptian Art and Archaeology, Dr. Patricia Podzorski – 12/13/10
Of the many underappreciated technologies of the ancient Egyptians, basketry is probably the most overlooked and ignored. This utility ware was ultimately functional for the ancient Egyptians, but could also be a source of beauty and so the subsequent ignorance of basketry in the realm of Egyptology is disheartening. Very few people have taken up the study of basketry to really analyze the technologies, materials and art surrounding them.
Only so much can be written about a general overview of basketry. Willeke Wendrich’s The World According to Basketry (Wendrich, 1999), studies the ancient basketry types and how they were made by comparing the processes used by modern basket makers in the same areas as the ancient baskets were discovered. The result of this ethno-archaeological study was the realization that basketry has changed little from ancient times through today. However, Wendrich’s book also appears to be the definitive book on basketry typologies. To write further on this subject would be superfluous. Instead, this paper will focus on one basketry type, in this case coiled basketry, and how much or little it changed through the history of ancient Egypt.
To begin a discussion of basketry, one must first define basketry. A basket, according to Merriam-Webster, is either “a receptacle made of interwoven material,” or “any various lightweight usually wood containers” (“Basket,” 2010). Basketry is defined as “the art or craft of making baskets or objects woven like baskets” (“Basketry,” 2010). While the definitions of basket and basketry are integral to the understanding of what basketry ultimately is, relying only on textbook definitions is problematic as they only tell the basics of any story. Indeed, this definition allows us to understand what basketry means to the modern person, but not what it meant to the ancient Egyptian. A study of the baskets used by the ancient Egyptians may lend clues as to the role basketry played in the everyday life of the ancient Egyptians, though for the purposes of this paper, this question will not be answered at great length.
Many baskets have been preserved in museums, allowing scientists to not only classify the baskets, but to look closer at the techniques used in the making of the baskets (Wendrich, 1991;1). When discovered in archaeological context, baskets are often, perhaps not completely ignored, but certainly not paid their due attention. Archaeologists are often unconcerned with basketry, doing little save mentioning its presence unless a basketry specialist is there to save the artwork from a lacking and ultimately disappointing description (Wendrich, 1991;1). As there are few basketry specialists, the descriptions of basketry left behind by archaeologists in charge of excavations past are often sketchy at best (Wendrich, 1999;1).
Building the Baskets
There was no single way to build a basket. While one technique may have been more favorable than another, many techniques were used throughout the history of ancient Egypt. There are eight basketry methods known to have been used in ancient Egypt: coiling, weaving, twining, plaiting, sewn plaits technique, looping, piercing, and binding (Wendrich, 2000; 256). Coiling is above all the most abundant of the methods used, using a core material, otherwise known as the passive element of the basket, wrapped with a different material, known as the active element, coiled one row upon another (Wendrich, 2000; 256). Weaving consists of numerous passive elements with an active element being strung between the passive elements (Wendrich, 2000; 256). Twining uses the same method as weaving, but there are two active components being twisted between each passive element (Wendrich, 2000; 256). Plaiting, or continuous plaiting, is made up of entirely active elements and involves braiding materials to make baskets, mats, or bags (Wendrich, 2000; 256). The sewn plait technique is related to plaiting, but instead of one continuously active technique, the sewn plait technique uses a number of small plaited strands, which are sewn together after they are produced (Wendrich, 2000; 256). Looping is, again, a continuously active technique, using knotless netting, where one loop is looped through another making bags, nets, or mats (Wendrich, 2000; 256). Piercing deals with rigid materials in which are bored holes allowing another rigid or even a supple element to pass through (Wendrich, 2000; 256). Binding takes a number of passive elements and joins them with an active element (Wendrich, 2000; 256). These systems are often used separately, but can be combined with each other to produce one object, though, through the following study, this appears only rarely. For the purpose of this paper, the focus will remain on coiled basketry, as that is the most common of the basketry types, and thus lends ease to the ultimate study of the evolution of basketry through ancient Egypt’s history.
The first step in creating a basket is locating and gathering the materials needed. There are three materials that are commonly used for basketry production in ancient Egypt: doam palm leaves, date palm leaves, and grasses (Wendrich, 2000; 155). All other materials, while they do occur, occur rarely.
The doam palm, Hyphaene thebaica (Manniche, 2006; 114) possesses fan-shaped leaves that could have been used as brooms without much production effort on the part of the artisan (Wendrich, 199; 146). In ancient Egypt, the doam palm would have been generally available through most of Egypt, though at present, it is relegated to Upper Egypt (Wendrich, 1999; 146). There is textual evidence, however, that the doam palm could have been imported, though from where is not clear, and probably for the purpose of basket making (Wendrich, 1999; 276-277).
The date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, actually produces a number of materials used in basketry besides the leaves (Manniche, 2006; 141-2). The leaves can be harvested whenever they are needed, but only a few of the young, supple leaves can be taken, as taking too many can kill the tree (Wendrich, 1999; 278). The brittle, rough, old leaves were used for coarser baskets and pierced baskets (Wendrich, 1999; 279). The long, curved stems that carried the date fruits were also used, often in the bundled cores of coiled basketry. These curved stems are still commonly used today (Wendrich, 1999; 279). Some of these materials acquired from the date palm required no preparation, such as the mid-ribs of the leaves and leaf-sheath fibers (Wendrich, 1999; 281). Minor preparations were needed for other date palm materials. The leaflets were removed from the mid-rib by hand then allowed to dry. The middle vein of the leaflets were removed sometime either during this drying stage or just before production (Wendrich, 1999; 281). The veins were not discarded, but set aside for later use as thread or string (Wendrich, 1999; 296). The fruit stems were dried then beaten to expose the tough inner fibers. This beating was usually done during the production of the basket, adding the fibers to the core of the basket as it was being shaped (Wendrich, 1999; 281). Though the date palm is common throughout Egypt, both in modern and ancient times, the evidence of its use in basketry is often scarce (Wendrich, 1999; 282).
Halfa grass or Desmostrachya bipinnata grows to nearly one meter in height and favors the edges of rivers, canals and their sandy surroundings. It produces both leaves and culms, or the hollow flower-bearing stems, both of which are used in the making of basketry (Wendrich, 1999; 147). Another type of halfa grass is the Imperata cylindrical. This type of halfa grass, however, is not as common as the Desmostrachya, and is thus not seen as often as a material used in basketry (Wendrich, 1999; 148). The leaves of grass are available at any time of the year, though the best blades are the young blades that grow before the grass flowers (Wendrich, 1999; 283). Grass takes little time to prepare, merely three to five days to dry, after which they can be dyed, if that is desirable, and dried again. Dry grasses are easily stored, and these dry stalks are wetted before use (Wendrich, 1999; 283).
Water-based plants were often used in basketry, including reeds, sedges and rushes. Two types of reeds are present in Egypt: Common reed, or Phragmites australis, and Giant reed, or Arundo donax. Both are tall, sometimes reaching a height of five to six meters, and are used for such things as arrows, writing pens, roofs and furniture. These plants are native to water-rich areas, and thus the Delta is where they are most likely to be found (Wendrich, 1999; 149). Sedges were used mainly in the manufacture of coiled basketry and rope, but are overall rare in basketry. They appear in marshes, mostly, growing upwards of five meters in height (Wendrich, 1999; 150). These water plants from the Cyperus species include Cyperus papyrus, or the traditional papyrus plant, and Cyperus rotundus (Wendrich, 1999; 151). Due to their watery environment, sedges are found most often in the Delta region (Wendrich, 1999; 285). Rushes are smooth and grow only about one meter in height. There are two species of rush in Egypt, the Junicaceae rigidus and the Junicaceae acutus distinguished only by their color (Wendrich, 1999; 151).
While not used in the construction of whole baskets, leather was often used beginning in the New Kingdom as a base for coiled basketry and in the lashings around the rims of such baskets that had a leather base (Wendrich, 1999; 304). It is likely this use of leather began only in the New Kingdom, as the practice of slaughtering was done in such an unhygienic fashion previous to that era (Wendrich, 2000; 300). Depictions of Amarna slaughterhouses show the neatly organized hides laid out to dry, indicating leather was a consumer product by this time (Wendrich, 2000; 301). There are a number of methods used to tan leather, but which method was used in the case of the leather bases and lashings is not specified.
Of the many tools needed to create a basket, none are as important as the body of the basket maker (Wendrich, 1999; 300). It is the ethno-archaeological study done by Wendrich that allows Egyptologists to understand more fully how a body works when a person is making a basket. Everything a basket maker does is done to aid the making of a basket, how they sit, how their hands are placed, where they rest their knees and arms, everything done to ease the basket making process (Wendrich, 1999; 341). The hands are constantly used, as are the feet to apply tension or to stabilize things when the hands are absent from any given task (Wendrich, 1999; 345). The eyes never stray from the work for long, as the focus is needed on making the basket as sturdy as possible (Wendrich, 1999; 393).
Next to the body of the basket maker, the knife is perhaps the most important and widely used tool in a basket maker’s arsenal (Wendrich, 1999; 392). Knives are used throughout preproduction and production of a basket. Often, specific types of knives are used in the procurement of certain materials for basketry, though any sharp knife would do the job nicely. Throughout the production of a basket, the knife would be used to cut string or thread, or even inconsistencies in the basket’s weave (Wendrich, 1999; 286).
There are other tools that were used in the production of basketry in addition to the basket maker’s body and the knife, but these additional tools were not as commonly used. The awl was also used and could have been made of anything, so long as it was sharp enough to pierce through some of the tough materials used in basketry. With this in mind, it makes sense the awls commonly found in association with basketry production are actually the thorn-like spikes that protrude from the base of the date-palm leaf stems (Wendrich, 1999; 279). Needles were usually long, approximately 10.5 cm and flat with a looped end which was secured with lashing (Wendrich, 1999; 300-1). The use of needles in the making of coiled basketry was not necessary, but they were used on occasion (Wendrich, 1999; 306).
There are numerous steps to creating a coiled basket. The first is preparing the materials as they may have been gathered some time before and stored until needed. The materials both for the core, such as the date palm fruit stems, straw, or sedges, and the wrapping material, including palm leaves or halfa grass, are gathered in one area (Wendrich, 1999; 150, 279) (Wendrich, 2000; 256). These materials are then soaked to replenish the suppleness needed when manipulating the form of the basket. The wrapping material, be it palm leaf or straw, is also soaked to renew it’s textile strength (Wendrich, 1999; 303). Once the materials have been prepared and the tools assembled, one can begin to build a basket.
Beginning the coil is the most difficult of the process, often because of a desire to make the basket appear as flawless as possible; if not prepared correctly, the base of the basket may appear lumpy and unsightly. Tapering the core materials and wrapping to create a snail-shape allows the initial coiling to take place at a more acute degree than if the core coil began with the entire core all at once. A separate base is another way to avoid unsightly clumping at the bottom of the basket, often appearing in the form of a leather or plaited base (Wendrich, 1999; 304). The wrapping of the core material begins immediately, with the awl boring holes in the previous layer of coils to ease the passage of the wrapping material, sometimes aided by a needle, through the core and previous layer of wrapping material, anchoring the new layer of coiling (Wendrich, 1999; 306).
Neither the core material nor the wrapping material was meant to last through the whole basket. Material needed to be added to the basket as the construction progressed. As the core material began to run out, more of the material was added, though not all at once, but at a slow pace to keep the basket’s coils even. When the basket reached the desired size, the core material would either be allowed to taper to an end, creating a smooth finish, or would be cut off for an abrupt end to the coil. There are two methods that have been recorded by archaeologists of adding more of the wrapping material. The simplest version is the action of pushing the original strand of wrapping material aside and beginning with a fresh piece of wrapping. A more elaborate process calls for the new strand to be wrapped around the old strand, securing both strands (Wendrich, 1999; 307).
The wrapping of the coiled baskets often created patterns. These patterns were both dyed patterns, usually in the form of previously dyed halfa grass, and different types of stitches used in wrapping the baskets. Designs were decided upon in regards to the type of base used to begin making the basket. The colored patterns are most often found on baskets with the snail-shaped coil beginning, while the patterns derived from using different stitches were associated with leather or plaited bases (Wendrich, 1999; 307). A technique called inlay was also used to decorate coiled baskets. This technique consisted of a second element that was added to the wrapping strand. As the initial wrapping strand is brought around the core, the inlay strand is folded beneath the wrap. The inlay element is then folded back over the newly made wrapping stitch as another stitch is made. The folding of the inlay under the stitch is repeated, creating a taught mosaic-like surface (Wendrich, 1999; 166).
There are numerous ways to finish the rim of a basket. In poorly executed coiled baskets, this termination is abrupt and not very aesthetic, leaving a stub of the core material. To create a smooth ending, the core material would taper away, much the same way as how a fully coiled basket would begin (Wendrich, 1999; 308). Additions were added both to strengthen the structure of the basket and to add decoration. Another layer of wrappings may be added to the rim of the basket, reinforcing the overall structure of the basket. It has been recorded that some subsequent stitching, similar to embroidery, was added to the body of the basket to create patterns while not troubling the basket maker with fancy patterns through the actual basket making process. In the case of leather based baskets, the rim would usually be wrapped with leather (Wendrich, 1999; 308). Additional coils have also been noted along the inside of the rim on which lids would rest and on the bottom of the basket acting as feet. These, too, would be added after the initial production of the baskets (Wendrich, 1999; 309).
Basketry, and coiled baskets specifically, span a wide range of functions. The early uses of basketry include rough-coiled buried grain silos in the Fayum pertaining to the Fayum A culture (5500 BC) (Wendrich, 2000; 256). The use of coiled basketry, while used as actual baskets, was also used as subterranean grain silos, a use which continued throughout Egypt into the Badarian culture (Wendrich, 2000; 256). Into the Naqada I period (5000-4500 BC), possible coiled grain silos were discovered at the site of Marimda (Wendrich, 2000; 257). Shallow baskets, hampers, models and small containers, both finely made and roughly constructed were used throughout the history of ancient Egypt. For the most part, the functions of these baskets were to hold household goods or groceries. There were some exceptions to this observation, such as a coiled hamper from Deir el-Medina dating from the Eighteenth Dynasty. This hamper was discovered containing the body of an infant, though it could have been used as a household object before it was made into a coffin (Egypt’s Golden Age, 1982; 134-5).
Coiled Basketry Through the Ages
The overall consistency of basket making techniques throughout time in ancient Egypt lends itself well to the study of how baskets were produced (Wendrich/World, 3). The greatest changes appear in the materials used and the tools used to produce the baskets (Wendrich, 1999; 3). Time, however, appears to be the biggest agent of change when it comes to the development of basketry.
The following sections are broken down by time period and stretch from the Neolithic period through the Roman period. Each section details a certain number of coiled baskets in an attempt to map the changes of the coiled basketry process through time. For images of most of the baskets described, please refer to Appendix A.
Neolithic and Predynastic (6000-3000BC)
As was discussed previously, the oldest baskets were found in the Fayum as subterranean silos. These silos were made of roughly coiled straw materials sunk in the ground (Wendrich, 2000; 256). Well made, finely executed coiled baskets were also found in these Fayum settlements, alerting archaeologists that this was by no means a recent development in technology, that it was probably perfected sometime earlier during the Neolithic (Wendrich, 2000; 256). What should be noted is these early baskets show a delicacy that is equal, if not outweighing, the workmanship of later periods (Wendrich, 2000; 256). One such basket pertaining to the Fayum Neolithic period is in the possession of the Petrie Museum. It measures approximately 7.5 centimeters tall, and is theorized to be a model instead of an actual basket. The workmanship of this particular basket, while somewhat difficult to see, appears to be of fine quality. The wrapping is still tight despite the decomposition the basket has suffered, and it still, for the most part, retains its form (Artifact UC2941).
A complete basket pertaining to the Fayum A culture was discovered by Caton-Thompson in 1926. While a photo of the basket is available, little description accompanies it. The size of the basket is unknown at this time, but the ovoid basket appears to be in excellent condition with tightly coiled wrappings and fairly rigid walls (Wendrich, 2000; 256-7).
Another coiled basket, supposedly pertaining to Predynastic Maadi, is on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. This fragment shows the delicate workmanship that has been associated with these early baskets (Wendrich, 2000; 257). While the provenience of most of these baskets is uncertain, though many appear to be from a funerary context, they still are able to shed some light on the early basketry techniques used by the ancient Egyptians (Wendrich, 2000; 257).
Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom (2920-2152BC)
Basketry changed little from the Predynastic forms used, even through to the early dynastic periods. A basket from the National Museum of Ireland pertains to Tarkhan, south of modern Cairo, in the First Dynasty. Acquired in 1912, only minimal information about this artifact is available. It measures 18 centimeters in diameter and is relatively flat. The wrapping is clearly discernable. The fine detail seen in the Predynastic baskets is lacking in this particular basket. The core materials are clearly visible as the wrapping is intermittent, though evenly spaced. It appears as though the core material and the wrapping material are the same, though that observation cannot be confirmed at this time. The basket is fragmentary, though only just. The rim appears to be complete, with the final looped/knotted stitch (appearing quite like the modern blanket stitch) clearly visible at the top of the rim. The core material appears to have been abruptly cut to finish the basket, instead of allowing the material to taper to an end for a smoother finish (Artifact 1912:283).
Another basket from the same museum and the same excavation and date, is also displayed. This basket is hypothesized to be a food container. It possesses a width of 15 centimeters and a length of 18.5 centimeters. Again, only the minimum amount of information is given, with no information concerning the materials used, though both the core and wrapping appears to have been made of some sort of reed. Like the previous example, this basket is roughly made with evenly spaced, though intermittent, wrapping stitches. The stiffer materials used are evident in the numerous holes and spaces between coils. This basket is ultimately more rough than the previous example, though both are of the same style of coiled basketry (Artifact 1912:282).
Middle Kingdom (2065-1781BC)
During the Middle Kingdom, the evolution of coiled basketry begins to be more significant. Acquired in 1905 by the Knoniklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis in Belgium, is a basket pertaining to Antinoopolois. According to the information given, the materials used are rushes. The basket measures 7.5 centimeters in height and has a diameter of 34 centimeters. Much like the two baskets analyzed pertaining to the Old Kingdom, this basket shows the evenly spaced blanket stitch-like wrappings exposing the inner core material. The core, however, is tightly wrapped, unlike the second specimen from the Old Kingdom mentioned above. The execution of this basket seems to be nearly flawless, with most of the damage coming from age instead of poor workmanship. The rim of the basket has begun to fray, but shows the technique used to finish the coiling process. As was mentioned earlier, the core can be tapered to create a smooth finish to the rim of the basket, as it appears in this basket (Artifact E.0785.23).
From the Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Spain, comes a reed basket in the form of a bowl. It possesses a height of six centimeters and a diameter of 12 centimeters. The technique mentioned in the description is that it was plaited and twisted, however, upon examination, the basket appears to be coiled. Like the previous example, the core is tightly wrapped, with the core tapering at the end of the coiling. The difference lies in the wrapping technique. Gone is the blanket stitch, and in its place is a simple looping technique. The stitches that were in the previous example evenly spaced, now appear slightly chaotic and closer together (Artifact 16229).
Also from the Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Spain is another reed basket, this one with a conical bottom and a diameter of 13.7 centimeters. Like the previous example, the basketry techniques described by the museum include plaited and twisted with no mention of the coiled technique. This basket, upon examination, is clearly made with the coiling technique. The looped stitches are evenly spaced over the entire body of the basket, each stitch abutting or almost abutting its neighbor. This form of coiling lends a smooth surface to the basket (Artifact 16230).
A number of baskets pertaining to the Middle Kingdom are housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One basket is made of grasses and pertains to the 11th Dynasty, Thebes. The basket measures seven centimeters in height, 7.5 centimeters in diameter. The lid is 8.5 centimeters in diameter. The wrappings are very fine, tightly abutting each other and are dyed red and black. Braided handles and loops stem from both the body of the basket and the lid, possibly to secure the lid for transportation (Artifact 31.3.51a, b).
A plain palm leaf basket and lid set is also in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, pertaining to the Memphis region and dating to either the 12th or 13th Dynasties. This basketry appears to have a chevron pattern manipulated through the wrappings being threaded through their counterparts in the previous coils. The lid is larger than the basket and no threads or braids are evident to keep the lid in place (Artifact 33.1.37a, b).
Second Intermediate Period (1781-1550BC)
The Petrie Museum contains a number of coiled baskets pertaining to the Second Intermediate Period, though only one set of a basket and a lid will be presently described. The first is a partial lid and a small, decayed round basket pertaining to Sedment. The diameter of the lid is 13.5 centimeters in diameter while the basket appears to be approximately 15 centimeters in diameter. Both appear to be tightly coiled and wrapped. The addition of wax to the material, which was not specified in either object, is unique to this basket set, though its presence is not explained (Artifact UC28409ii and Artifact UC28409i).
The Institut de Papyrologie et D’Égyptologie at the Université de Lille in France also houses a Second Intermediate Period basket. The basket pertains to Nubia. There is a conical lid with a flat top that sports a mop of fabric that serves as a handle. The basket itself is half-spherical with six holes in the rim that would probably have been for cords or braids to secure the lid. The wrappings are very taught, as are the coils themselves. It appears the wrappings are threaded through the spaces between their counterparts on previous coils, not through them (Artifact L689).
New Kingdom (1550-1075BC)
The New Kingdom saw a surge in patterns used in basketry, though plain basketry was used just as often. A basket set in the Petrie Museum pertaining to Gurob and the 18th Dynasty, illustrates the intricate designs being implemented in basketry. This particular basket measures 23 centimeters in length and is quite deep, though these measurements are not given. The coils are tight and the wrappings are abutting each other tightly, and not penetrating their counterparts on the previous coil. An inner coil was added as a lip for which to rest the lid. The wrappings appear to have been dyed red and black and placed in a large chevron pattern. It is possible some natural-colored wrappings are also present. It is interesting to note the black wrappings of this basket seem to have decomposed more quickly than the other colors, indicating that perhaps the dye for black was less stable than other colors used (Artifact UC7933).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art contains a number of fine examples of New Kingdom basketry. One of which, is probably among the most humble. Found in the foundation deposit for Hatshepsut’s temple near Thebes dating to the 18th Dynasty was a model basket. This basket measuring 19 centimeters long, 11.8 centimeters wide and 4.5 centimeters high, shows no signs of any decoration. Indeed, the coils are larger than the finer baskets of the Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, and the New Kingdom described above. The wrappings are well executed, with an almost spiral pattern where the penetrated wrappings of the previous coils create a chevron appearance. The coils are loose with the wrappings just as loose, though covering the core almost entirely. This basket, in comparison with others contemporary to this basket, appears to be of very poor quality. Of note, there appears to be no wear patterns on this basket and its discovery near a temple could point to a ritual rather than a functional use (Artifact 22.3.242).
Also from 18th Dynasty Thebes and housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a large ovoid basket with a lid measuring 22 centimeters high, 40 centimeters wide, and 63.5 centimeters long with the lid measuring 56 centimeters long. This basket is made of halfa grass, palm leave and linen cordage. The coils are tightly wrapped and tightly constructed with the wrappings being threaded to the side of the previous coil’s wrappings. An inner lip coil was added to the basket upon which the lid can rest. A pattern of black and red chevrons is repeated around the basket on a background of undyed wrapping. The lid has a corresponding mirrored pattern, though the very top of the lid is difficult to see. Periodically, linen cords protrude from the basket walls, presumably to tie the lid in place (Artifact 36.3.57a, b).
Pertaining to the 19th Dynasty and the Memphis region is another basket housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This basket is the first the author has noted with multiple basketry techniques combined in a single product. The measurements of the basket consist only of the diameter, stretching to 41 centimeters. The walls of the basket are coiled, wrapped tightly with the wrappings threaded through their counterparts in the previous coils creating the chevron effect. The bottom of the basket appears to have been made of a simple, loose weave. The purpose of this basket is not known, though it is possible it was used as a sieve or winnowing basket (Artifact 15.3.1124).
Late Period (664-332BC)
The style once again changes, but only slightly, upon reaching the Late Period. Housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a small spherical basket and lid from the 25th or 26th Dynasty, Thebes. It measures 5.8 centimeters in height and has a diameter of 6 centimeters. The basket is constructed of dyed and undyed reeds. The majority of the basket is naturally colored with three alternating lines of red and black wrappings at the rim. The rim of the lid also sports an alternating line of red and black wrappings. A twisted strand of fiber protrudes from the top of the conical-shaped lid, possibly having been used as a handle. The style of wrapping is distinctly different from what has been noted previously. The pattern is one tight wrap around the core, one wrap penetrating between the previous two coils, then repeated. Only the colored bands at the rim are excused from this pattern (Artifact 22.3.65a, b).
Roman Period (30-313BC)
The Roman Period saw a greater shift in the direction of mismatched basketry techniques within a single product. A more traditional basket is housed in the Petrie Museum. This small, shallow basket, or possibly lid, is made of tightly wrapped coils. The wrappings do contain patterns, though not dyed patterns. These patterns derive from different methods of wrapping. The background wrapping is the common wrapping that is threaded through the wrapping of the previous coils, though the chevron pattern is less distinct in this subject. Wrapping stretching over two layers of coils form intermittent triangle patterns. The rim is a plain, tight wrapping (Artifact UC59026).
A flattened plaited basket is also located at the Petrie Museum. The body of the basket appears to be made up of plaits sewn together with a knob in the bottom, the purpose of which cannot be determined by the author. The rim, however, is coiled, breaking distinctly from the bulk of the Dynastic basketry, which rarely mixed coiled techniques with other basketry techniques (Artifact UC59033).
The final basket to be analyzed is a helmet-shaped basket with intricate weaving designs. The majority of the basket is made up of hexagonal hole patterns. A band of simple weaving of two dyed colors bordered by waling splits the hexagonal pattern in two. The rim, which was constructed using the coiling technique, shows the reeds used in the construction of the basket folded over, with coiling hiding the finishing step from the consumer’s eyes (Artifact UC8454).
Through the preservation of basketry, and the study of basketry, however misrepresented, scientists are able, not only to understand the forming and function of baskets, but also the evolution of basketry through time. From the observations made above, one can map, to a certain extent, the evolution of basketry in ancient Egypt. The Neolithic and Predynastic periods saw a rough, but well-constructed coiled basket, bent solely on function and ease of production. Time was not to be wasted on such baskets. Function was still foremost in a basket maker’s thoughts in the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom, though that did not deter them from exploring more artistic representations of their functional baskets. The Middle Kingdom saw a surge in the artistic flair used in basketry, when dyed wrapping materials were used, if not for the first time, then for the first time in force. The New Kingdom expanded on the dyed materials in their basketry, moving from two colors to a polychrome basketry. Also in the New Kingdom, there appears to be a move towards using different basketry techniques in the construction of single baskets. The Late Period saw new experiments being made occasionally in basketry, with the wrappings being executed in different manners. The Roman period saw a more extensive move towards multiple technique baskets.
This study has shown a distinct evolution of coiled basketry and, while interesting to note, is very one-dimensional. In 1940, Harry Tschopik, Jr., produced an extensive study on Navajo basketry. In this study, Tschopik follows three questions: Why has basketry survived as an artistic tradition and a functional tool? How have the attitudes of the people making the baskets changed? If so, what processes led to these changes (Tschopick, 1940)? To follow Tschopik’s lead and study the historical evolution, not only of the basketry, but of the attitudes and outside influences on the basketry, may be a worthwhile study. This could show why baskets evolved the way they did, focusing on the individuals making and using the baskets, the cultural evolution surrounding the baskets and how that culture, as it changes, also demands changes from the basketry. This paper as it is presented, is the first step in such a study that will hopefully be continued in the future.
Artifact L684. “The Global Egyptian Museum.” Dec. 8, 2010. <http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org/record.aspx?id=7083>
Artifact1912:283. “The Global Egyptian Museum.” Dec. 8, 2010. <http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org/record.aspx?id=2541>
Artifact 1912:282. “The Global Egyptian Museum.” Dec. 8, 2010. <http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org/record.aspx?id=2540>
Artifact E.0785.23. “The Global Egyptian Museum.” Dec. 8, 2010. <http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org/record.aspx?id=183>
Artifact 16229. “The Global Egyptian Museum.” Dec. 8, 2010. <http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org/record.aspx?id=7670>
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Artifact UC28409i. “The Petrie Museum.” Dec. 8, 2010. <http://petriecat.museums.ucl.ac.uk/detail/details/index_no_login.php?objectid=UC28409i&accesscheck=/detail/details/index.php>
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Petrie Museum – <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/petrie>
National Museum of Ireland – <http://www.museum.ie/>
Knoniklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis – <http://www.kmkg-mrah.be/>
Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Spain – <http://man.mcu.es/>
Metropolitan Museum of Art – <http://www.metmuseum.org/>
Institut de Papyrologie et D’Égyptologie at the Université de Lille – http://egyptologie.univ-lille3.fr/