Mad in Pursuit Notebook

Spindle whorls, Manteno culture, Ecuador

The Spindle Whorl

STORY. I find it hard to write about some things I love because they are too entangled with centuries of practices and cultures totally mysterious to me. These beadlike tools have been used for as long as raw plant material and animal fur/wool have been spun into thread. They fit over a dowel (the hand-held spindle) and function to keep the dowel spinning as the raw material is pulled from its tangle. There's a good explanation on and a video from Ecuador showing one in action. The smaller the whorl, the faster the spin and the finer the thread or yarn.

In a sense, the spindle whorl links nearly every culture worldwide. It raises questions--when did people figure out about thread and spinning and weaving? I guess humans decided to wear clothes so they could explore beyond hot climates. And I did read once that clothing also held sexual allure, even at the very beginning. It's easy for my imagination to travel back to those first makers, puzzling through how to efficiently bind vines together, experimenting with various reeds and grasses. Maybe string and rope came first...

Collectors are always curious. Curiosity feeds both the intellect and the heart. The spindle whorl connects me to an ancient time, an ancient weaver, humming a tune as she spins thread and dreams of her children's future.

[top image] Very small pottery spindle whorls with incised with zoomorphic, anthropomorphic, and geometric designs; dusted with kaolin (china clay) to bring out details. ManteƱo culture, Ecuador, 850-1600 C.E. Sold in necklace form to sbp, from a tribal arts shop in NYC (1996) and from a gift shop in Ecuador (1998).

[middle image, below] Large pottery spindle whorls with geometric designs. Quimbaya culture, Cauca Valley, Colombia, 400-700 C.E. Purchased by JZ on a public health tour of Colombia, 1964.

spindle whorls, Quimbaya culture, Cauca Valley, Colombia

[bottom image, below] Turned bone spindle whorls, typical of those excavated in Hama (Syria), Qumis (Iran), Samaria-Sebaste (Palestine), and possible Corinth (Greece); exported via Afghanistan. From Islamic cultures, 7th-11th century C.E. Two strings purchased by sbp, one in Pakistan and one at an NYC tribal arts show (1990s).

spindle whorls, ancient Middle East

21 Jan 2018


THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) Thailand: lovers of ancient treasure tangle with international black markets. Delia Rivera pulls Martin Moon back into the game and their quest turns deadly. In paperback and Kindle editions.

TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) Time after time, Mary asks herself: Do I go or do I stay? She finds her power in her ancestors: Smart women turn discontent into action. An illustrated memoir in paperback and Kindle editions.

PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008) The twin forces of revenge and redemption drive Nellie MacKenzie and Taylor Jackson on a crazed adventure into the heart of Central Asia. They grapple with issues of ethics, trust, rage, and bitter heartbreak -- as well as the intrigue of the international antiquities trade. In paperback and Kindle editions.



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