Egyptian Coptic Bone Painted Spindle Whorl


A delicate Egyptian Coptic bone spindle whorl. The whorl is highly decorated with a circular band of inscription to the top, surrounded by an incised concentric circle. The shoulders have been enriched with inscribed parallel strokes set at a diagonal, interspersed with two circle and dot motifs. The top of the spindle whorl retains the deep red pigment which would of been applied to the whole piece. The inscription, a repeated pattern of the letters CAIV fails to provide a specific meaning, but could possible refer to an individual’s initials or the beginning of a family name. As is usual, the whorl has been pierced through the centre to fit a spindle. The base is flattened and undecorated. The presence of both an inscription and pigment is highly unusual. A rare and delicate piece.

Date: Circa 5th - 10th Century AD
Period: Coptic Period
Condition: Excellent. Pigment still vivid. Small chip to one side.


Spindle whorls were useful accessory to the spindle; wool would have been twisted around the spindle then spun and left to drop pulling the fibres and creating yarn. The whorl would have been attached to the spindle helping to control the speed of the process. The weight of a whorl would determine the force applied while the diameter dictated the amount of twists performed during one spin. This technique for spinning dated from the Iron Age to the early post-medieval periods. In Roman society, women were tasked with clothing production; this has been testified by frescoes recovered from Pompeii, where women are shown hanging clothes to dry in a dye-shop.  In particular, an epigraphic inscription, dedicated to the Statlii family, mentions the quasillariae which was a group of all female spinners.

The dot-and-circle motif was one used across cultures and times. It is thought to possibly serve an apotropaic purpose by warding of the evil eye, although this has not been verified fully.

Weight 2.79 g
Dimensions L 2 cm



Reference: For similar decoration: The Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, item 84.208.A and For similar vivid pigment: The Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, item 84.212.A

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