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Exploring networks of trade and exchange between East and West through textile finds from Nahal Omer, with a focus on silk and cotton

The trade and exchange of goods, people, and technologies in Antiquity along the so-called Silk Roads have been the subject of numerous studies in recent decades. Our project’s goal is to contribute to this global world history by examining textile finds and their contexts from a small village and way station along an ancient trade route in the Negev Desert in what is today Israel. The village, Nahal Omer, can be dated to the Late Byzantine (6th century CE) and Early Islamic periods (7-8th centuries CE). Nahal Omer’s prominence derives from its excellently preserved organic materials. Through a case study focused on archaeological silk and cotton textiles, and applying cutting-edge bioarchaeological methods, we will for the first time determine these textiles’ origins and places of production as well as their relation to other organic goods they may have been traded with, and highlight the longue durée as well as the breaks and changes in textile trade and production along this part of the Silk Roads. Our research methodologies combine datasets from the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, together with evaluation of textual and iconographic sources, in order to better understand the movements of textile goods, traders, and consumers. Taking a bottom-up approach, we will look at one of the often-neglected smaller settlements and silk roads, focusing on the impact of long-distance trade on the communities scattered along the peripheral trade routes; and add this hitherto little known artery of the “Israeli Silk Road” to the larger systems of connectivity.

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Map: Ben-Michael, J., Israel, I. and Nahlieli, D. 2018. Nahal Omer: A Village from the Early Islamic Period in the Arava. Excavations and Surveys in Israel. 129: 2, fig. 1.

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