In the Beginning
In February, when I started transferring my blogs to the new site, my earliest repost was Origins: A Brief Synopsis of Silken History. And it was exactly that: BRIEF. Time to start exploring that history in depth.
The legend of course starts with The Yellow Emperor. More specifically his wife, Hsi-ling Shih. Legend has it a cocoon fell from a mulberry tree in to her tea, and on hitting the water, began to unravel. And from this, Sericulture was born. And of course, this makes a lovely story. From this legend, Hsi-ling Shih was elevated to Goddess, known in Chinese texts as The Goddess of Silk. Her legend has that in addition to sericulture, His-ling Shih is credited with inventing the loom upon which silk is woven.
This all makes for a wonderful story, and there may be some level of truth to it. While there is no concrete evidence (yet) that the Yellow emperor exists as anything other than legend, there is plenty of evidence that Sericulture truly began approximately 3000 years b.c.e.—which is the Neolithic era historically, running from approximately 12,000 years ago to about 1700 b.c.e in Europe and approximately 1200 b.c.e in China. So a legend about silk originating during this time holds water from a historical standpoint—minus the lack of clear evidence that the Yellow Emperor and the Goddess of Silk ever actually existed. But I tend to believe that all legends start with a kernel of truth.
And archeological evidence bears out this legend. Truly! The oldest silk found in China dates from 3650 b.c.e. in Henan province with other extant examples dating from 2750 b.c.e. in Zhejiang province. This shows that over the course of 1000 years, silk slowly spread through China. But then, thanks to further efforts on the part of archeologists and historians, even older evidence of silk has been unearthed.
Silk protein has been discovered in a tombs in Henan Province that are 8500 years old. The site where the silk protein was found is home to the oldest evidence of musical instruments, writing, and sewing implements, such as bone needles and weaving tools. The absence of actual silk is not surprising as it is a protein filament, which means it biodegrades like anything else. But the presence of bone sewing implements in conjunction with the trace protein elements, certainly supports the idea that silk may be even older than originally thought.
So silk is a Known Textile at least as early as 3650 b.c.e. And possibly as old as 6500 b.c.e. Which certainly places it in the ranks of oldest known textiles—albeit known to a select few in a comparatively small region of the world, given global production of textiles during the Neolithic period. More on that as I continue to read up on early textile production. For now, here is the Beginning of Silk. There is no doubt (at this point) that it originated in Henan province, China. How did it spread? I know what legend says, but what can be traced and proven historically? What is conjecture and what is fact? In reality, we will probably never know. The further back in time one looks, the more one is left to guess work and supposition. But it’s fun jumping down the rabbit hole.