Coarse silk in the Mongol period
- The Persian historian Juvayni expresses this transformation by saying
that before Chinggis Qan the Mongols clothing [was] from the skins of
dogs and mice, while afterwards their garments [were] of gold brocade
and silk [istabraq va harir]. His testimony is fully confirmed by Peng
Ta-ya, a Sung envoy to the Mongols in 1237, who says of their garments
that formerly they used felt, fur and leather; recently they use coarse
silk and gold thread [chien-hsien].
- Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire, p. 13
One of the more remarkable Mongol-era discoveries in recent years is the
tomb at Baogedu Wusumu Hashatugacha in Xilinguole League, which was
exposed during a rainstorm in 1988. Archaeologists retrieved a number of
gold and fabric artifacts there, including a wooden saddle fitted with
ornaments of hammered gold leaf (Fig. 101). Professor Zhu Hong of Jilin
University has analyzed the complete skeleton found in this tomb and
determined that the interred was a woman between 17 and 19 years of age
(Su Jun, 1993). Six fragments of birch bark found in the Hashatugacha
tomb suggest that the young woman buried there was a member of the Mongol
nobility. Thin traces of coarse, loosely woven silk cling to the birch
bark, and it is pierced with evenly spaced needle holes. Su Jun (1993)
believes that the bark pieces originally formed part of a guguguan
[boghtaq], the traditional hat worn by Mongol noblewomen (Fig. 102).
-Empires Beyond the Great Wall, p. 160
This implies to me that in the early period of the Mongol Empire, at least
on the outskirts of the empire, coarse silk (potentially comparable to
noil) was used, *even among the elite* and it is possible that it might
occasionally have been traded or raided in the period before Chinggis
There is also a reference in Culture of Golden Horde Cities, by G.A.
Coins were carried in purses, of coarse cloth, silk, or leather (Krotkov,
1915, p. 122; Yegorov and Fyodorov-Davydov, 1976, Illustration VI, fig.
It's unclear to me whether "coarse cloth" and "silk" are meant to be
mutually exclusive here (the book is a translation from Russian, so in a
precise case of semantics like this, I'm not going to put too much stock
in the translator, who makes minor grammatical errors elsewhere); if not
applied to silk, it would almost have to apply to cotton, as wool and
linen are relatively rare in the Mongol Empire, as far as I can tell.
I have two more books on Golden Horde archaeology to wade through, so I
might be able to find more information.
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