I’m just riffing off of the recent reading and household discussion of Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years. It’s a great book and part of its strength is its strength lies in its tight focus on the archaeological record. That costs her some breadth (though it is still a broad book)—for example, there is little said about Africa, Asia, or the Americas. This is generally fine given her argument that the regions she is studying serve as the cradle of string and subsequently weaving technology. Given her deep time frame, diffusion into Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia is easy enough.
The Americas are the outlier. String and weaving are major elements in Mesoamerica and you see more than a few powerful goddesses adorned with a spindle. As I understand her account, the migration that will go on to populate the Americas long predates Barber’s account of the invention of weaving. As it stands, her account would suggest that weaving developed sui generis in two regions of the world. That’s not unbelievable, but it does make me wonder if there might be something else at play, if there might be a bit of ritual technology which we aren’t seeing which might provide a fertile soil for the development of weaving technology in multiple regions.
Part of this emerges out of my own ritual life at the moment, where I am having this surprisingly complex dialogue with an eight-pointed circle and Sophia (think of the compass rose, with each of its eight points inscribed on the circumference of a circle). Numerous symbols can be extracted from it if you begin to connect the points to each other by straight lines and the net of total lines. This is obviously the sort of thing that, raised to much more complex levels, yields the 231 gates of Kabbalism.
Building that up, I am doing that both physically (drawing) and mentally (visualizing strings of light). Drawing reasonably straight lines isn’t all that easy for me, but I realized as I was reading Barber’s account of post looms that it would be fairly easy to produce straight lines with string drawn taut between two points, through suspension that relies on some combination of weight or gravity. String start to go interesting places when you think about posting out a space for sacred reasons and joining those posts with string. Mathematical and astrological opportunities abound and I wonder if string may sit at the root of some fairly basic scientific innovations.
(And we all know about the interplay of string and music. Cords and chords. Further down the line.)
That sort of thing could easily predate the use of string in clothing (Barber’s delightful prehistoric string dresses with their bands already suggesting the interplay of forces that will stretch the string in a loom) and would travel with our wanderers out of what is present-day Ethiopia. The crisscrossing of strings between points in space would form the matrix for the discovery of weaving to bring together cloth wherever they go, latent but just a short step away.
I could even see the earliest efforts to define and name constellations taking shape between women gathered around posts arranged in mimicry of the stars in the sky. As string is stretched between them, they acquire an outline.
Sorry, I’m woolgathering. I should get back to work.