A Ball of Yarn Older Than Any In Your Stash

How old is the oldest ball of yarn in your stash? (My yarn never seems to last very long…) Even if you have some truly ancient yarns on your hands, it doesn’t even come close to a ball of yarn recently found by archaeologists in a swampy area near Cambridge England.

The ball of yarn you can see below is about 3,000 years old (920-800 BC), and it is most likely made of nettle or flax. It was found in one of the best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings archaeologists have ever found in Britain, along with a spindle whorl.

3000 Year-Old Ancient Yarns

This ball of yarn is 3,000 years old, found by the Cambridge Archaological Unit, University of Cambridge. Photo courtesy of Must Farm Archaeology

The dwellings where the yarn was found are now called Must Farm, often referred to as “Britain’s Pompeii” or “the Pompeii of the fens.” The small settlement was made up of round houses, up on stilts to keep them above the swamp water. Whether by accident or attack, two of the houses caught fire and collapsed into the water and muck. This served to preserve the dwellings, and many artifacts, for 3,000 years.

Archaeologists have found jewelry, weapons, drinking cups, and more in addition to ancient yarns. This is far more material wealth than experts previously thought Bronze Age Britons possessed, and much more sophisticated.

The yarn was a unique find because it is so delicate. The archaeological team had to use all their experience and care to excavate and clean the tiny ball of yarn.

It appears black now because of the fire that destroyed the dwelling. The carbonization may make it impossible to ever know what the original color was—and they certainly didn’t find a tag saying what the dye lot was!

P.S. Got the itch to spin flax and other plant fibers to weave with? Check out this video from Norman Kennedy on traditional techniques for spinning flax and cotton.

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