Accessibility statement

Gwendoline Pepper

Research project

Following a thread: Tracing technology and techniques along the Silk Road

Supervisors: Dr Aimée Little and Dr Steve Ashby 


Summary of Research Project

Silk was a highly valued, and extensively traded commodity during the Middle Ages and therefore provides an excellent case study for the vast trade networks which facilitated the transmission of material goods, culture, and knowledge between Asia, Europe, and Africa during this time period. In previous studies of medieval silk, most emphasis has been placed on the trade and use of silk cloth, while significantly less attention has been paid to the manufacture and exchange of silk thread. This topic of silk thread production is key because over the course of the Middle Ages, the production of silk thread spread far outside of China and Central Asia, leading to waxing and waning trade monopolies throughout this time period.

Using experimental archaeology in combination with microscopy, this project aims to characterise medieval silk threads fibres in order to answer the question “How are differences in the equipment and methods used to produce silk reflected in the quality of the resulting thread?”. This technology-led approach will ultimately provide a framework for examining other more ephemeral variables relevant to the transmission of craft knowledge along the silk road including skill, status, and gender roles.


My research interests involve using archaeological textiles and experimental archaeology to better understand the lives of medieval craft workers. I am also interested in the social implications of gendered labour during the Middle Ages. These interests are informed by my background in Fine Art and Craft. In 2015 I completed a BFA with a focus on Textiles/Fashion at NSCAD University in Halifax, Canada. Over the course of this degree I developed a particular interest in traditional craft techniques and carried out several practice-based textile projects, one of which involved rearing silkworms to maturity, processing, dyeing and weaving their silk into a final piece of cloth. I went on to study an MA in Medieval Archaeology at the University of York from 2016-2017. My dissertation used an experimental comparison of the efficiency of medieval weaving technology as a way of addressing disparities in the status of gendered labour between the early and late Middle Ages. Upon completing my MA I worked in the heritage sector in both Canada and Australia before returning to York to start my PhD in January of 2020.

Publications, Papers and Awards


Pepper, G. (2019). Time Looms over us: Observations from an experimental comparison of medieval English loom-types. Archaeological Textiles Review (61).


Conference Papers

Dec. 2017 Let’s‌ ‌do‌ ‌the‌ ‌timed‌ ‌warp‌ ‌again:‌ ‌Visualising‌ ‌Medieval‌ ‌English‌ ‌cloth‌ ‌production‌ ‌time‌.‌ ‌Theoretical Archaeology Group conference, ‌Cardiff


Academic Awards

Jan 2018 The‌ ‌Richard‌ ‌A.‌ ‌Hall‌ ‌Prize‌ ‌for‌ ‌best‌ ‌dissertation‌ ‌in‌ ‌Early‌ ‌Medieval‌ ‌Archaeology,‌ ‌University‌ ‌of‌ ‌York,‌ ‌York,‌ ‌UK‌


Contact details

Gwendoline Pepper
Department of Archaeology
University of York
PalaeoHub Wentworth Way

Tel: (44) 1904 433931