Nimrud Embroidery

Part of the ruined town of Nimrud, before the ISIS destructions. Part of the ruined town of Nimrud, before the ISIS destructions.

Nimrud is an ancient Assyrian city along the Tigris river, in northern Iraq. It was founded in the second millennium BC and remained occupied for about one thousand years. The ancient site is now known as Calah. In early 2015, much of the site was damaged by ISIS followers. The relevant textiles come from the 1988-1989 excavations directed by Muzahim Hussein, of the Iraqi Office of Antiquities and Heritage.

The textiles were recorded from Tomb 1, which is believed to date to the eighth century BC. According to the British textile historian, Elisabeth Crowfoot, these were linen textiles, which included: "..... small fragments of well-preserved fabric including tiny areas of embroidery which had survived near to the body in Tomb 1." Crowfoot also referred to: "..... tiny darned patterns in white threads, preserved from decoration perhaps on some area such as the border of a veil."

However, a degree of care needs to taken, as a little later in her article, Crowfoot writes: "Fragments of pattern indicated by tiny closely darned areas can be separated from a tangle of white threads from Tomb 1. In the largest piece spots, made by as many as ten returns of soft thread, darned over three (missing) warps, are joined to each other by a single continuous thread and perhaps originally lay in a circle, like the petals of a flower; others with decreasing returns show stepped lines, or are pointed to form triangles, possibly leaves; occasional threads end in a knot. These designs could have been run in by needle, perhaps on a tabby ground to which some other areas among the loose thread may belong – a technique found in darned patterns on much later handkerchiefs – or perhaps put in while the fabric was still on the loom, on the area of bare warps sometimes found near the end of a woven piece" (Crowfoot 1995:114).

Crowfoot’s caution would suggest that further analysis should be carried out on these pieces before they can be conclusively described as embroideries or woven inlays of some kind. In addition, among the Nimrud textiles there were found a number of gold and cornelian beads. These were ".....lying in the folds of one layer of the solidified textile, may have been sewn to adorn a garment rather than come from a broken necklace or bracelet." If Crowfoot is correct, then this is an early example of applied decoration, in the form of sewn on metal forms and beads.


  • ANON (1989). ‘Excavations in Iraq 1987-88: Nimrud,' Iraq 51, pp. 249-265.
  • CROWFOOT, Elisabeth (1995). ‘Textiles from recent excavations at Nimrud,' Iraq, 57, pp. 113-118.
  • DAMERJI, Muayyad Said (2008), ‘An Introduction to the Nimrud tombs,' in: J. E. CURTIS, D. COLLON, H. MCCALl and L. Al Gailani WERR (eds.), New Lights on Nimrud: Proceedings of the Nimrud Conference 11th – 13th March 2002. London: British Institute for the Study of Iraq, pp. 81-82.
  • VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, Gillian (2016), 'Embroideries from archaeological and historical sources from the Eastern Mediterranean and Iraq,' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 71-77, esp. p. 75.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 3 June 2016)


Last modified on Tuesday, 18 April 2017 12:43