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Changes in the production of Burmese textiles in the long 19th century

Changes in the production of Burmese textiles in the long 19th century

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A focus on dye and fibre characterisation of Karen garments from the British Museum’s collection.

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Changes in the production of Burmese textiles in the long 19th century –

A focus on dye and fibre characterisation of Karen garments from the British Museum’s collection

A talk by

Diego Tamburini, Department of Scientific Research, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, UK

based on joint research with

Joanne Dyer, Department of Scientific Research, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, UK

Caroline Cartwright, Department of Scientific Research, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, UK

Alexandra Green, Department of Asia, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, UK

The 19th century is a complex period in Myanmar’s history, marked by transition from the Konbaung dynasty (Myanmar’s last royal house) to the early phase of complete British colonial rule (1885-1914). Tremendous innovations occurred in this time period and evidence exists that the scientific advances and technological developments taking place in Europe impacted Myanmar’s traditional forms of crafts. Synthetic dyes represent one of the most important categories of new materials created in this period, and their introduction from Europe to Asia is an understudied topic [1-4]. Moreover, little in-depth scientific work on Myanmar minority textiles has been undertaken [5].

For these reasons, a pilot study has been conducted at the British Museum focusing on the dye analysis and fibre characterisation of six Karen textiles with the aim to investigate how the fibres and dyes of such textiles changed over the course of the 19th century and how the changes related to local and colonial trade networks. The textiles span chronologically from the 1830s to the early 1900s and include traditional garments such as tunics and skirts, in addition to representing a broad colour palette and different weaving techniques (plain weave and ikats). The investigation was conducted non-invasively by using broadband multispectral imaging (MSI) and fibre optic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS). The results obtained guided a sampling campaign during which samples were taken and investigated by optical microscopy (OM), scanning electron microscopy energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (SEM-EDX) and high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to diode array detector and tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-DAD-MS/MS). Natural dyes were found on the older textiles, supporting their attribution dates, whereas mixtures of natural and synthetic dyes were identified in the later textiles. Observations on mordants and fibre processing were also obtained, thus drawing an interesting picture on the introduction on new dyeing materials and techniques in Myanmar over this time period. The light sensitivity of the identified dyes will also inform the correct display of these delicate objects, which are planned to be exhibited at the end of 2023 in a major BM exhibition focusing on Myanmar art and history.

References

1. Chen, V.J., et al., Chemical analysis of dyes on an Uzbek ceremonial coat: Objective evidence for artifact dating and the chemistry of early synthetic dyes. Dyes and Pigments, 2016. 131: p. 320-332.

2. Liu, J., et al., Identification of early synthetic dyes in historical Chinese textiles of the late nineteenth century by high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with diode array detection and mass spectrometry. Coloration Technology, 2016. 132(2): p. 177-185.

3. Cesaratto, A., et al., A timeline for the introduction of synthetic dyestuffs in Japan during the late Edo and Meiji periods. Heritage Science, 2018. 6(1): p. 22.

4. Tamburini, D., et al., Exploring the transition from natural to synthetic dyes in the production of 19th-century Central Asian ikat textiles. Heritage Science, 2020. 8(1): p. 114.

5. Chen, V.J., et al., Identification of Red Dyes in Selected Textiles from Chin and Karen Ethnic Groups of Myanmar by LC-DAD-ESI-MS, in Dyes in History and Archaeology 33/34, J. Kirby, Editor. 2021, Archetype Publications: London. p. 92-101.

Diego Tamburini is an analytical chemist by training and obtained his PhD in Chemistry and Materials Science from the University of Pisa in 2015. He specialised in the use of chromatographic and mass spectrometric techniques for the characterisation of organic materials. His PhD work mostly focused on the application of analytical pyrolysis (Py-GC-MS) to the investigation of archaeological wood and Asian lacquers.

He joined the Department of Scientific Research of the British Museum in 2016 with an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship focusing on the application of liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry to the identification of natural dyes in historical and archaeological textiles. His main project focused on the palette of Asian dyes used in the Dunhuang textiles of the Sir Aurel Stein collection.

In 2020, he moved to the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution) as a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellow. His project focused on the dye analysis of the ikat textiles present in the Guido Goldman collection with the main aim to explore the transition from natural to synthetic dyes in the production of 19th-century ikat textiles from Central Asia.

After a short Postdoctoral Fellowship at Northwestern University, focusing on the localisation of proteins in African sculptures, he joined the British Museum again in 2021 in the role of Scientist: Polymers and Modern Organic Materials. His current interests and research lines are related to the development of new analytical strategies based on gas and liquid chromatography coupled with high resolution and high accuracy mass spectrometry to unlock new ways of characterising and identifying natural and synthetic polymers as well as other organic materials.

This event is free for OATG members.

Non-members are kindly asked to make a donation (£3 suggestion) via the OATG PayPal account. Without donating you will not be able to join the event. Please do get in touch if you have any issues.

The talk will be followed by a discussion, you are welcome to post your questions in the chat during and after the talk.

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