University of Oulu

Suomela, J.A., Viljanen, M., Svedström, K. et al. Research methods for heritage cotton fibres: case studies from archaeological and historical finds in a Finnish context. Herit Sci 11, 175 (2023).

Research methods for heritage cotton fibres : case studies from archaeological and historical finds in a Finnish context

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Author: Suomela, Jenni A.1; Viljanen, Mira2; Svedström, Kirsi2;
Organizations: 1Department of Education/Craft Studies, University of Helsinki, Siltavuorenpenger 10, 8, 00014, Helsinki, Finland
2Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, Gustaf Hällströmin Katu 2, 64, 00014, Helsinki, Finland
3Nanomicroscopy Center, Aalto University, Puumiehenkuja 2, 15100, 00076, Espoo, Finland
4Faculty of Humanities/Archaeology, University of Oulu, FI-90014, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 10.2 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-10-12


Cotton (Gossypium species) was used as textile fibre already in the early Indus culture, and since then it has been cultivated in Tropical and Subtropical regions around the whole planet. The species G. hirsutum is nowadays the dominant cotton crop with more than 90% of the world market, while G. barbadense, G. herbaceum and G. arboreum combined, the other cultivated species of Gossypium genus total a minor part of world’s cotton production. Even in places where cotton was not cultivated, it could be an important trade item and income source for local textile centres, with the imported raw cotton lint being spun, woven and for some part exported from such sites around the globe. This all occurred far away from Finland, until changes brought by the development of long-distance trade and the Industrial Revolution. Based on archaeological finds, cotton as a textile material reached Finland relatively late, in the early Middle Ages. The article focuses on the problematic nature of identifying these cotton finds: whereas modern cotton fibres are easy to identify, the archaeological finds can at first sight be confused with bast or un-degummed silk fibres. This issue will be approached through reviewing recent Finnish cotton finds in heritage textiles. Additionally, the article examines whether the four cultivated cotton species could be differentiated using both classical and newly developed fibre identification methods, such as optical microscopy methods, a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) or Wide-Angle X-ray Scattering (WAXS).

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Series: Heritage science
ISSN: 2050-7445
ISSN-E: 2050-7445
ISSN-L: 2050-7445
Volume: 11
Article number: 175
DOI: 10.1186/s40494-023-01022-2
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 615 History and archaeology
Funding: Open Access funding provided by Helsinki University Library. There has not been external funding for this research.
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