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Plant Focus

Cloaks from Oaks?

In his book Oak, the Frame of Civilization, William Bryant Logan gives an account of the partnership between oaks and human beings since the latter first became civilized. He emphasized the role oak trees played as a resource for people: fuel, building material, food (acorns), even ink (from galls). We can now add clothing to that list. Researchers have determined that pieces of 8,500-year-old textile found in the Neolithic city of Çatalhöyük in modern day Turkey are not made of wool or linen, as previously guessed, but from oak bast.

Bast fiber is found between the bark and the wood in trees such as willow, oak, or linden. The people of Çatalhöyük used fibers from oak bark, fashioning their clothes from trees they found in their surroundings. It is known they used oak timber as a building material, so they likely harvested the bast fibers when trees were felled. Strips of fibers were joined end to end, their ends overlapping; the strips were then rolled together by hand, producing pieces of yarn that were then plied together.

This piece of cloth is from the Stone Age. For 60 years, academics have debated whether it is made of wool or linen. So what is it really made of? The answer will surprise you. Credit: Antoinette Rast-Eicher, University of Bern
Fragment of textile made of oak bast, found at Çatalhöyük. Photo: Antoinette Rast-Eicher

The research has been published in the journal Antiquity, in an article authored by Antoinette Rast-Eicher of the University of Bern, Sabine Karg of the Free University of Berlin, and Lise Bender Jørgensen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. You can read a summary of the research here or access the full article here (subscription required).

With thanks to Peter Marshall for bringing this news to our attention