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Textiles Conservator - Mayans produced very fine fabrics

05
May '08
Textiles conservator Margaret Ordoñez
Very few textiles from the Mayan culture have survived, so the treasure trove of fabrics excavated from a tomb at the Copán ruins in Honduras since the 1990s has generated considerable excitement.

Textiles conservator Margaret Ordoñez, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, spent a month at the site in 2004 examining 100 textile samples found in a tomb, and since then she has been analyzing tiny fragments of 49 samples she brought back to her lab to see what she could learn from them.

The tomb, one of three excavated by archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, was of a woman of high status who was buried during the 5th century.

“What was most amazing was that there were as many as 25 layers of fabrics on an offertory platform and covering pottery in the tomb, and they all had a different fabric structure, color, and yarn size, so it's likely that the tomb was reopened – perhaps several times -- and additional layers of textiles were laid there years after her death,” said Ordoñez.

One fabric in particular had an especially high thread count – 100 yarns per inch – which Ordoñez said is even considered high for modern textiles. “It speaks to the technology they had at the time for making very fine fabrics. It's gratifying that we've been able to document that the Mayans were quite skillful at spinning and weaving.”

Analyzing these ancient textile samples is a complex and laborious process, particularly because the remnant samples are so small.


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