Weighty finds uncovered at A40 Park & Ride excavations

Plan of the excavations, showing where we uncovered loomweights at the A40 Park & Ride

Our Milton Keynes team have uncovered two loomweights at A40 Park & Ride, during their excavations in Eynsham, Oxfordshire. They’ve identified the remains of a Middle Iron Age farmstead, including at least three roundhouses, two of which (A and B, as on the plan) contained one near-complete and one partial loomweight.

The near-complete loomweight recovered from roundhouse B was triangular and measured 150mm x 150mm x 140mm x 65mm (that’s bigger than your hand!). The second loomweight was more fragmentary, though was likely originally of a similar size and shape to the first. These objects represent loomweights for use on a warp-weighted Iron Age loom and may suggest that textile manufacture was undertaken on site, possible even within the roundhouses themselves.

The loomweight fragment is shown, side on and front-facing. It is triangular, with a clear hole through one corner
A fragment of one of the loomweights

Warp-weighted looms are at least 6000 years old and have been found in European archaeology as far back as the Neolithic period. The looms are typically constructed from wood and are used in a near-vertical position, allowing wider pieces of fabric to be woven than would be possible on ground looms. Fabric is woven starting at the top of the loom and working down towards the base. A shuttle (a hand-held tool that carries the weaving thread) is repeatedly woven backwards and forwards through the warp threads (which hang from the top of the loom) creating the textile. The unique feature of this type of loom is the use of fired clay or worked stone objects, known as loomweights, to maintain tension in the warp threads – these are what we have found on our site. Loomweights are attached to bundles of warp threads at the bottom of the loom, to keep the threads taut and prevent the spun threads from unwinding. 

A woman in Iron Age dress threads a spindle. She stands in front of a reconstructed loom, which is very tall and shows lengths of thread being woven. Loomweights at the base look like the loomweights at the A40 Park & Ride
Reconstructed Iron Age loom (by kind permission of Offsetwarehouse, UK)

The most important features of loomweights are their width and weight; they have to be heavy enough to maintain the tension on the threads. Other factors, such as size, shape, material and decoration often change depending on the culture or date of the object, and that can help us to place them in the archaeological record. A set of loomweights are usually uniform in size, like those found at Eynsham, but the size of sets can vary greatly. Experimental archaeology has found that lighter loomweights are better suited to weaving fine cloths, and heavier loomweights are better suited to coarser cloths.

Though any organic parts of the loom, and the textiles themselves, have sadly not been preserved at the site (and are rarely preserved in the archaeological record as a whole), the recovery of loomweights at A40 Park & Ride provides an interesting and tangible glimpse into the daily lives of this farmstead’s past occupants. Our recovery of these items also provides an insight into the organisation and use of the small Iron Age farm, which potentially had a focus on textile production. 

You can see one of the loomweights ‘up close’ for yourself, by taking a look at the 3D model in our Virtual Museum.

Grace Griffith (Publications Officer)
Pete Banks (Senior Finds Officer)

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