University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Goat to Sweater

July 18, 2016

co-written by: Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann

In thinking of ways to preserve the historic landscape around Gordion , Turkey, Ayşe and I thought the best approach was one that would give economic value to the land. Historically, mixed farming (sheep and goat herding and dry-farmed grain cultivation) were the basis of the economy. Now, however, creeping suburbanization and excessive irrigation agriculture are erasing the traces of millennia of occupation in the region.


Metin catches a goat, with Tumulus MM 'Midas Mound' of Gordion in the background
Metin catches a goat, with Tumulus MM ‘Midas Mound’ of Gordion in the background

I like plants and Ayşe likes people, so we came up an idea: since controlled grazing does not intrude on the landscape as much as other types of land use, developing a market for locally produced angora goat fiber would make the land more valuable as pasture than as fields; the yarn could be sold to tourists who like to knit. Ayse, who has done extensive ethnoarchaeological research, knows many people in the village of Yassıhöyük, the home base of the Penn Museum’s Gordion Project, so that is where we started.

Hatice, Metin, and Songül the kid
Hatice, Metin, and Songül the kid

In the summer of 2012, we arranged for Metin Öncel to reserve enough fiber from his angora goat herd for two women’s sweaters. Although naturally white goat hair is more commercially desirable, we prefer the browns and grays. In the end, the darker fiber cost the same as the white. As Metin explained, he had to feed the dark-haired goats over the winter, instead of selling them. In the summer of 2013, we arranged for Metin’s wife, Hatice, to wash the fiber, and we arranged to have it carded and hand spun by Emine Dogan, one of the last hand-spinners in the village. By the summer of 2014, most of the fiber was spun; Emine began knitting Ayşe’s sweater, and I started mine. By the summer of 2015, Ayşe’s sweater was finished, but I needed a bit more of the darker yarn to finish up. A little over three years after we started, we both had our sweaters. “Goat to Sweater” tells the story.

Angora goats before they head out to pasture
Angora goats before they head out to pasture

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