Latest excavation work in the ancient city of Çatalhöyük in Turkey has revealed the world’s first hemp-weaved fabric, which was found wrapped around a baby skeleton in the ground of a burned house.
The city of Çatalhöyük is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date. At a time when most of the world's people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, Çatalhöyük was a bustling town of as many as 10,000 people. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is known as one of the best sites for understanding human Prehistory.
The linen, which dates back 9,000 years, was found as part of the latest dig, which involved 120 people from 22 different countries, and was one of the most striking findings of the season, particularly due to its high level of preservation.
“The fire warmed up the ground and platforms of the building and created a kiln drying effect. Therefore the pieces and this piece of cloth underground have been so far protected. Examinations in the laboratory show that this piece of cloth is linen weaved with hemp,” said Professor Ian Hodder, head of the excavations. “This is a first in the world and one of the best-preserved examples.”
Hemp is a commonly used term for high growing varieties of the Cannabis plant and its products, which include fiber, oil, and seed. Hemp fiber was widely used throughout history for items ranging from rope to fabrics and even sail canvases. Hodder believes the piece of linen came from the eastern Mediterranean from central Anatolia and may be evidence of hemp used in trade.
Hemp has been cultivated by many civilizations for over 12,000 years. However, until the latest discovery, the oldest evidence of hemp fiber came from imprints found on Yangshao pottery in China dating to the 5th millennium BC. The Chinese later used hemp to make clothes, shoes, ropes, and an early form of paper. The classical Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 480 BC) reported that the inhabitants of Scythia would often inhale the vapors of hemp-seed smoke, both as ritual and for their pleasurable recreation. It is not known whether the inhabitants of Çatalhöyük in Turkey had discovered the more ‘recreational uses of the Cannabis plant.