Textile Fibre in Italy before the Roman Empire

SEM image of animal fibre from an early Iron Age textile found frozen in an Alpine glacier in Italy

FIBRE: Marie Curie Fellowship 2009-11

SEM image of a completely mineralised textile from a Hellenistic Period burial in Perugia, Italy

The FIBRE project investigated the development and use of textile fibres in Italy from prehistory until the Roman period. Wool and flax fibres constitute a nexus between agriculture and textile craft, two of the oldest and socio-economically most important human technologies.

Issues addressed through the investigation of archaeological fibre include ancient agriculture, husbandry, trade and economy, development of new strategies of fibre acquisition, diversification and spread of sheep breeds throughout Europe. Yet, ancient fibres have never been investigated in this complex context.

Ancient Italy served as this project’s point of departure since by Roman times it produced some of the best wool and linen but is the least investigated area in European fibre and textile archaeology. The FIBRE Project examined the various sources of information available for the investigation of ancient fibre, including archaeological textiles, archaeobotanical and archaeozoological assemblages, palaeoecological and geological record, as well as ancient literary and iconographic sources.

SEM image of plant fibre from an Early Iron Age textile found in Veii, Italy

The objectives of the project were to elucidate endogenous development of textile fibres in Italy and their spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean; to evaluate the old and to develop new fibre analytical methods and ways of interpreting obtained data; to integrate fibre studies into research of broader archaeological questions.

The project aimed to demonstrate the potential of archaeological fibre for the investigation of ancient craft and agriculture, thereby having a major impact on archaeometric methodology, textile and fibre archaeology and European economic and agricultural history.

The expected major accomplishments the FIBRE project were: Elucidation of endogenous developments of textile fibres in ancient Italy and their spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean area; evaluation of the old and development of new fibre analytical methods and ways of interpreting obtained data; integration of fibre studies into interdisciplinary research of broader archaeological interest.

Related outputs

  • I. Vanden Berghe and M. Gleba, In preparation, “Textile mineralisation and dye preservation: the case of Strozzacapponi, Italy”, Journal of Archaeological Science
  • M. Gleba and M. Baioni, In press, “The textile find from Lucone di Polpenazze (BS)”, Proceedings of the International Conference “Pile dwellings: investigation, preservation, enhancement”, British Archaeological Reports
  • M. Gleba and I. Vanden Berghe, In press, “Textiles from Strozzacapponi (Perugia/Corciano), Italy – new evidence of purple production in pre-Roman Italy”, in C. Alfaro (ed), Purpureae Vestes IV
  • M. Gleba, 2014, “Sheep to textiles: approaches to investigating ancient wool trade”, in K. Droß-Krüpe (ed.), Textile trade and distribution in antiquity, 123-133, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag 
  • M. Gleba, 2013, “Fibre in Italy before Roman Empire”, in J. Banck-Burgess and C. Nübold (eds.), NESAT XI. North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles XI, 10.-13.May 2011 in Esslingen, Espelkamp, 131-138, Verlag Marie Leidorf GmbH 
  • M. Gleba, 2012, “From textiles to sheep: investigating wool fibre development in pre-Roman Italy using scanning electron microscopy (SEM)”, Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 3643-3661
  • M. Gleba 2012, “Lo sviluppo delle fibre di lana nell'Italia preromana”, in M. S. Busana and P. Basso (eds), La lana nella Cisalpina romana: economia e società, 351-363, Padova: Antenor (in Italian)
  • M. Gleba 2012 “Fibre tessili nell’Etruria d’epoca protostorica: i primi dati del progetto FIBRE”, in N. Negroni Catacchio (ed.), Preistoria e Protostoria in Etruria, X incontro di studi, 1-12, Milano (in Italian)
  • L. Ø. Brandt, L. D. Tranekjer, M. Mannering, M. Ringgaard, K. M. Frei, E. Willerslev, M. Gleba and M. T. P. Gilbert, 2011, "Characterising the potential of sheep wool for ancient DNA analyses", Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 3 (2), 209-221



Project Leader:

Project Partners:

  • Dr Tom Gilbert, Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Dr Karin Margarita Frei, Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Dr Ina Vanden Berghe, Royal Institute of Heritage Studies, Brussels, Belgium


Further information:

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