Staff at Wessex Archaeology can attend, or even deliver, lunch time talks on a wide range of archaeological topics, allowing us to keep up to date with latest projects, gain insight into other fields of archaeology, and generally be inspired by new ideas. Lunch time talks are a great opportunity to make the most of the variety of knowledge and background of the people working at Wessex Archaeology. On Wednesday 22 August it was my ‘turn’ to present the history of spinning and a hands-on part giving everybody the chance to have a go at spinning with a drop spindle.

I spoke about spinning and spindlewhorls, a topic of especial interest to me, not least because I was always interested in ancient textiles and came in contact with spinning during university excavations in the vicinity of an Iron Age open air museum. A place where women made spinning look very easy and natural. At the start of the lunch break the meeting room at our Salisbury office filled up quickly with colleagues and volunteers. It was amazing to see so much interest in the topic that sandwiches were soon forgotten…

Spinning whorls and wools Spinning through lunchtime

The first part of the talk gave an overview of the development of spinning from the earliest archaeological evidence for drop spindles in the Near East dating to 4300–4000 BC, through the first appearance of the technique in Britain in the Bronze Age, to the invention of the spinning wheel and the industrial manufacturing of yarn. 

The following hands-on part allowed everybody to enjoy feeling and handling different types of fleece, and learn, for example, that the Soay sheep moults naturally and sheds its fleece without the need for shearing, and the Cotswold sheep with its long, soft and luscious locks, which was imported by the Romans. Attendees were also able to have a look at the display of books about ancient textiles and sheep breeds, investigate the hand spun yarns from the different fleeces, and compare spindlewhorls kindly provided by the Salisbury and Sheffield finds teams. Many of my colleagues stayed to have a go at drop spindle spinning themselves − revealing their hidden talents!

I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my knowledge about spinning −a great opportunity for me to enhance my skills in public speaking (and spinning) − and to see the interest and enthusiasm of my colleagues and the volunteers. I am looking forward to the next talks when I will have the chance to learn more from other colleagues. 

Lunch time talks − a great way to come together and exchange ideas.

By Martina Tenzer