Parallel Minds, 9–13


The Missing Majority


When we think about the history of technology, weaving is probably not among the first things that come to mind. And yet weaving has had an incalculable impact upon human civilisation: from the production of clothing to the birth of modern programming, this technology has accompanied human history as a silent presence, intertwined with the life of every one of us. The oldest traces of woven fibres among homo sapiens are known to date back more than twenty thousand years, to a time well before the birth of agriculture, but it is probable that our species was not the only one to have developed the technique of weaving: a recent study has revealed the discovery of a woven fragment attributed to Neanderthal man, which would take weaving back as far as ninety
thousand years.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber, an archaeologist and expert in the history of weaving, argues that widespread ignorance of this fundamental aspect of the history of technology owes largely to the perishability of fabric fibres, physical traces of which are easily lost with the passage of millennia. This then is also the reason why, when we imagine technologies of the past, we think of hard materials such as stone and metal, while fabric, by its nature soft and organic, ends up being almost completely forgotten…