Session: #241

Theme & Session Format

Interpreting the archaeological record: artefacts, humans and landscapes
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

Let the Lead Cloth Seals Speak – The Production, Trade and Consumption of Cloth in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Cloth was one of the most important traded items in the pre-modern era. Written records testify to the extraordinary role of this commodity and consumption article. Sources allow us to track textiles from their production via distribution centres to consumption sites and speak of vast varieties of cloth and immense profits. The omnipresence in historical sources, however, is unfortunately rarely matched by archaeological records. After a few hundreds of years, cloth only survives in exceptional conditions. In addition to that, taphonomic processes have reduced most of the once colourful and precious cloth to anonymous small fragments. It is therefore extremely difficult to reconstruct the biography of the cloth in question.
Luckily, the archaeological record consists of other finds which offer great potential when analysing the production, trade and consumption of cloth: the lead cloth seal. However, we lack an analysis of these finds on the European level.
Attached to bales of cloth, lead seals followed the cloth from production areas to the retailers in urban or rural sites. Compared to their original quantity though, the number of the surviving cloth seals is few. However, there are very few other archaeological finds that offer more potential than lead cloth seals when analysing pre-modern trade. Cloth seals connect the producer and consumer, they show market relationships and distribution patterns and they allow us to reconstruct the markets for textiles over the centuries. These inconspicuous objects hold a wealth of information, especially if related to written evidence.
This session aims to bring together papers on production, trade and consumption of cloth with lead cloth seals as the starting point. The papers will demonstrate the potential of a larger-scale, interdisciplinary discussion of cloth seals on a European level and will exemplify the contributions of such analyses to the economic history of the pre-modern world.
Lead cloth seal, Cloth, Middke Ages and Early Modern Era, Hanseatic trade, Cloth production, Consumption
Session associated with MERC:
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Main organiser:
Georg Haggren (Finland) 1
Angela Huang (Germany) 2
Jette Linaa (Denmark) 3
Erki Russow (Estonia) 4
1. Archaeology, Department of Cultures, University of Helsinki
2. Research Centre for Hanse and Baltic History (FGHO) at the European Hansemuseum, Lübeck
3. Department of Archaeology, Moesgaard Museum
4. Institute of History, Archaeology and Art History, School of Humanities, Tallinn University