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Cap knitted in stocking stitch in byssus thread, or "sea silk"
© UASD / J. Mangin ; J. Boulanger ; Th. Sagory


Object reference no. : 11.218.163
Date : early 14th century
Material : knitted byssus
Place of discovery : waste pit, ZAC-RU in the Basilica sector
Dimensions : Ĝ = 18 cm
Cap made of byssus

Description : During the excavation of a waste pit, a shapeless fragment of textile was discovered. It is rare to discover textiles during an excavation, and a decision was made to preserve it. To remove the layer of encrusted earth that covered it, the fragment was immersed in mineralized water that was changed frequently. After four months, the final traces of sediment had disappeared, and the piece was carefully unfolded. It turned out to be a cap knitted in stocking stitch. The fragment of textile then took on additional scientific interest, since knitted medieval objects are extremely rare. A stylist mounted the cap on tarlatan that had been shaped, and then placed it on an exhibition support.

The cap still had some surprises in reserve, because it was found to be made from an extraordinary material-byssus, also known as "sea silk" or "fish wool". Byssus is a fiber secreted by a species of large Mediterranean mussel, a bivalve mollusk called Pinna nobilis. This brown silk thread with gold highlights was known to the Phoenicians, and was mentioned in medieval written sources. It was harvested until the mid-20th century in the Gulf of Tarentum and in Sardinia. In particular, byssus was used for making gloves and hats-but always for luxury objects. It appears that the cap discovered in Saint-Denis is the oldest surviving example of this production, which today is no longer practiced.
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