While digging in Must Farm, a Bronze Age settlement known as “Britain’s Pompeii,” British archaeologists unearthed yarn that is 3,000 years old.
The ball is extremely small and fragile, and the team took great care to clean it off without damaging it, according to their Facebook page. It appears to be made from plant-based fibers, possibly flax or nettle, and was found with other textile artifacts and tools.
In addition to this tiny skein, the archeologists unearthed another that was still wrapped around a bobbin, as well as a spindle whorl.
The history of knitting is somewhat murky, in part because the materials used are so easily degraded over time. The oldest completed pieces of knitting ever found are the Coptic socks, which were discovered in Egypt and date back to about 1000 CE. However, they are complex, sturdy pieces (which they would have to be to survive all this time) with intricate colorwork, according to this article from Knitty. That indicates that they are probably far from the earliest pieces made, which would likely be simpler. Other, older pieces have been found, but later determined to be made by a process known as nalebinding, which predates — but is easily mistaken for — knitting and crochet. The earliest piece of nalebinding found is a different pair of socks, also discovered in Egypt, dating back to between 300 and 500 CE.
The team at Must Farm has not yet been able to determine what these textile finds might have been used for, since many items that could provide context have degraded or were burned in the fire that originally destroyed the settlement. But maybe their discoveries will eventually cast some new light on the early days of fiber arts.