The wide world of wild silks.
The objectives of WILDSILKS is to study the role played by WS substances and associated cultures in the longue durée between Asia, Africa and Europe given that they have been long disregarded by social and materials sciences. <br />Through a comparative approach with BM substances and cultures, such reflections will permit to integrate WS into a global history and anthropology of materials and materialities.
WILDSILKS relies on history, ethnography, life, physical and biochemical sciences, as well as sciences of preservation. Developed on three levels (substances, local knowledge and practices, and environmental and life shaping), it questions the techniques of production, uses and identifications of WS substances in contemporary material cultures and museum pieces.
Due to COVID, the project has mainly advanced on the inventory and study of the collections which are still in progress. The results will be gradually refined.
The project has already improve the methods of identifying wild silks in collection by optical techniques whose protocols remains to be standardized and to identify new archives attesting to the use of wild silks in European factories in the 19th century.
By localising wild silks textiles in museum collections, and by determining their species thanks to biological and materials sciences, WILDSILKS will contribute to the construction of a historic mapping of the uses of each wild silks species.
The project will also investigate the present sociocultural dimensions of wild silks through ethnographic fieldworks. Thus it will question wild silks’ roles as indicators at the interface between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ and in relation to environmental, social and economic imbalances.
Papers & chapters submitted for publication:
1/ de Palaminy, L. (submitted) « Development of a non-destructive methodology using ATR-FTIR and chemometrics to discriminate wild silk species in heritage collections » (provisional title) to the peer-reviewed journal Spectrochimica Acta Part A (https://www.journals.elsevier.com/spectrochimica-acta-part-a-molecular-and-biomolecular-spectroscopy/)
2/ Desrosiers, S. (submitted), « Étude des fragments de soie » (provisional title), in P. Périn (éd.), Les tombes gallo-romaines et mérovingiennes de la basilique de St-Denis, Tome XXVI des Mémoires publiés par l’Association française d’archéologie mérovingienne
Materials and cultures. The wide world of wild silks
For centuries, amongst the many silk-producing insects, Bombyx mori or ‘mulberry silkworm’, native to China, has been extensively reared. It is praised for the fine and shiny long filaments drawn from its cocoons. Yet, other species belonging primarily to the Saturniidae family, qualified as ‘wild’ by silk specialists, have been bred worldwide in local textile industries, while a few species like the Chinese Antheraea pernyi and the Japanese Antheraea yamamai reached the international silk market during the 19th century. However, archeological findings show their long-lasting existence. At least two wild silks species have been used since the 3rd millennium BCE in the Indus valley (contemporary Pakistan), and another species was present during the following millennium in the Aegean. These discoveries and others made in the area comprised between Central Asia and Europe show that wild silks have an enduring past which deserves attention in order to understand the history of silk/silkS as well as the importance/significance of these materials in today’s globalized world. Indeed, these species and the substances they produce are the focus of emerging interests in the domains of economic development, natural resources management, and cultural heritage, and they feature in claims over biological and genetic resources under international property laws (Nagoya protocol).
Grounded on both social sciences and sciences of life and materials, WILDSILKS is a cutting-edge project studying the history, the present making, and the role the so-called ‘wild’ silks can play to explore societal and environmental questions. It gathers an interdisciplinary team relying on history, social anthropology, biology, physical and biochemical sciences, as well as sciences of preservation. By working on three scales -substances, local knowledge and practices, and environmental and life shaping- WILDSILKS questions the techniques of production, uses and circulations of wild silks from museum pieces and contemporary material cultures. Through a comparative approach with Bombyx mori substances and cultures, such reflections will permit to integrate wild silks into a global history and anthropology of materials and materialities.
By localising wild silks textiles in museum collections, and by determining their species thanks to biological and materials sciences, our project will contribute to the construction of a historic mapping of the uses of each wild silks species. Such a framework could confirm the validity of Aristotle’s and Pliny the Elder’s comments on silk production in the Aegean and trace some inter-regional wild silk circulations, for instance between the Indian sub-continent and Africa through the Indian Ocean.
WILDSILKS will also investigate the present sociocultural dimensions of wild silks through ethnographic fieldworks in four areas –India, Southeast Asia, Japan, West Africa– chosen for the vivacity of their wild silks production and use, for their involvement in exchanges of species, substances, and knowledge, for the diversity of their sociotechnical contexts, and for their renewal and/or emerging interests in wild silks. It will question wild silks’ roles as indicators at the interface between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ and in relation to environmental, social and economic imbalances. Thus, WILDSILKS’ young team members integrate local and global dimensions to the long history of silkS.
Madame Annabel Vallard (Centre Asie du Sud-Est)
The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.
CASE Centre Asie du Sud-Est
Help of the ANR 359,999 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2019 - 48 Months