Curator’s Diary 22/3/12: Of sling shots and Coptic socks

Experimental archaeology seems to breed enthusiasm. And it is always rewarding to see this enthusiasm sparked between two people who have never met, but who discover a mutual interest an object in the collection. This was the case when, last week, David Colter and Regina Degiovanni met in the Museum.

Sling shot Acc. no. 103

Sling shot Acc. no. 103, with ‘shots’ which may or may not have been used with it.

A chance conversation with David in a pub had alerted me to his interest in a sling shot (Acc. No. 103) from Kahun currently on display in our temporary exhibition, ‘Unearthed’. A separate enquiry had come from Regina, a member of Merseyside and West Lancs Weaver Guild. She was interested in how both the sling and our famous Coptic sock (Acc. No. 983) – which she’d seen at our Gripping Yarns event– were crafted. Both, it turned out, had created their own replicas of the sling shot in an attempt to work out how it was made. They were delighted when, with the help of technician Mike, we opened the sling’s display case so that they could have a closer look at the object, and measure it accurately.

David explains to some visitors how the sling shot works.

David explains to some visitors how the sling shot works.

At the pub, David had set forth a very reasonable hypothesis on the sling’s use. He believes that it was not merely a toy, as it has been interpreted in the past: it is in fact capable of delivering a lethal blow from as far away as 200 yards. He observed that it would have been suited to hunting birds, and wondered if it might have been used near a lake or marsh. Of course the sling was found by Flinders Petrie at the workmen’s town of Kahun, which is situated near the Faiyum lake: the perfect environment to go on a bird hunting expedition!

David demonstrates the slingshot

David demonstrates the slingshot

Regina’s interest in our Coptic sock resulted in her spending the best part of two days with the object, observing it closely and working out how it was stitched, knitted and/or woven. The pattern, we decided, would make an interesting gift for sale in the Museum shop.

Both David and Regina have kindly agreed for the results of this experimental archaeology to be included in our display of ‘imitation’ objects in the new Ancient Worlds galleries. Find out about another slingshot from our archaeology collection here.

The Museum continues to be actively involved in experimental archaeology.

Regina with her very accurate replication of the pattern on our Coptic sock

Regina with her very accurate replication of the pattern on our Coptic sock



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7 responses to “Curator’s Diary 22/3/12: Of sling shots and Coptic socks

  1. wally

    fascinating article and shows the enthusiasm that results in a fuller understanding of our collective history

  2. Grant Hill

    This has intrigued me! Wish i had seen it sooner though. How come the sling shot was ever interpreted as a toy when the parallel one from Kahun now in Petrie Museum U.C.6921 has always been described as a weapon? Petrie dated it to 3rd Intermediate Period so your dating might also be wrong. Stephen Quirke states U.C.6921 is the only sling to have been found in Egypt!

    Petrie, Tools and Weapons. 36, pl.LIV, V14
    Quirke, Lahun. 123

  3. siglindesarts

    What stitches were used for these items? I have read that a similar sock was naalbinding, and it looks like this might be naalbinding too. Can you provide more details? They are fascinating items and I would like to recreate them too. Thanks.

  4. siglindesarts

    What materials and stitches were used on these items? I have read that a similar sock was done in naalbinding. I would appreciate any details you can share. Thanks!

  5. if this coptic sock is dated before 1100 then it is nalbinding, the socks are worked from the toe up, I have made several pair. and have written a pattern for them. please as a museum you need to give accurate information.

  6. I replicated some some of the tunics that are held in the Petrie collection at the Whitworth and spent an afternoon taking detailed pictures of the construction of the late Roman coptic and early medieval Islamic garments. I’m currently reconstructing another from the same collection for a private collector in the USA. It is right that the socks in the Petrie collection are more than likely Narlbinding – but this technique can encompass a huge number of knotting types which make up the collectively known typology of ‘single needle knitting’ (as the literal translation goes).

  7. Ruth Gilbert

    It is not ‘nalbinding’, which is a Norwegian technique, but it is looping, done with short lengths of yarn and a single blunt needle. There is an article by Dorothy Burnham in Textile History vol 13, 1972, about the socks in the Royal Ontario Museum collection.

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