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Coarse silk in the Mongol period

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  • Melissa A Barton (S)
    “The Persian historian Juvayni expresses this transformation by saying that before Chinggis Qan the Mongols’ ‘clothing [was] from the skins of dogs and
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 29, 2004
      “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 P’eng
      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
      Khan.

      There is also a reference in Culture of Golden Horde Cities, by G.A.
      Fyodorov-Davydov:

      “Coins were carried in purses, of coarse cloth, silk, or leather (Krotkov,
      1915, p. 122; Yegorov and Fyodorov-Davydov, 1976, Illustration VI, fig.
      I).”
      -p. 219

      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.

      -Qara Qulan


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