Extremely readable and still scholarly overview of women's textile work from the Stone Age through to the very early Iron Age in Eurasia. Fascinating information about all sorts of wonderful things. The nature of women's work, what textiles tell us about women's social roles in different ages and societies, the development and spread of various techniques and materials and what that spread can tell us about the movement and status of different peoples in the ancient world. The uses of cloth and clothing to send social signals, in religious observances, in diplomacy and trade.
The most wonderful thing about this book is that all of this information is firmly rooted in the evidence of real textiles, loom weights, texts, sculptures, account records, wall paintings, recreations of historical textiles and techniques and so on. So much of the traditional work of women doesn't precisely leave a record graven in stone. As a consequence the subject of women's work gives rise to huge temptations to speculate in advance of the evidence or even in the absence of evidence altogether.
Given some of the patronising tosh that has been said about women's work in the past I do understand how tempting it can be to make a large cake from a small bit of flour. One longs to create a different fantasy if only to combat the old ones. But understanding how tempting it can be makes me appreciate Barber even more, how she teases real information and knowledge out of such small details as the orientation of fallen loom weights, and how if she can't find evidence she doesn't make stuff up.
Its worth reading the book for her discussion of methodology alone; how to seek and organize evidence for the more ephemeral occupations like clothmaking, cooking, music, dance. I am deeply impressed by the mountain of hard thoughtful work on which this book is perched. At the same time, as I said its still very readable - another considerable achievement - when someone is so close to so many tiny details its impressive to be able to pull back and tell a coherent and interesting story about them.
My enjoyment of this book is partly due to my deep interest in the subject matter, but I highly recommend it to anyone.