Driftwood, rocks, bones, and shells found on a beach, grasses and feathers of the forest may inspire an artist or a crafty person. Nature gives plenty of possibilities to a creative person. Nature gives us ideas and supplies with material. Attention paid to plants and animal is always rewarded. Once people learned how to make threads and fabric they started looking for sources of raw material.
Byssus is composed of filaments secreted by a clam called Pinna nobilis which lives in Mediterranean region. Other species of clams exist that secret similar filaments to attach themselves to rocks and other objects under the sea. The filaments are remarkable. They are extremely strong and they can stick to wet objects.
To attach themselves to a surface the mussels extend a part of their foot toward the surface, roll it into a tube and pump in a secreted glue. The ingredients of this glue are water soluble, but they harden in water when mixed together. The filaments may reach a foot long. There are no documents dated before the first century AD which mention making fabric from byssal threads in Mediterranean region.. The fabric is woven of filaments obtained from shells. Crafting byssus was born near that time. Sea silk was produced until modern times since. The fabric is light and warm. It has golden shine under sunlight.
Making sea silk fabric is a dyeing craft. There is one woman in Sardinia, Chiara Vigo, which dives into the sea to collect byssus filament. She may be the last person on the Earth making byssal threads and fabric. There is no need to harm clams during byssus harvesting.
That type of fabric is now called “byssus”. The term “byssus” used in many ancient documents and also in the Old Testament. In these documents it refers to a very delicate fabric made from linen or cotton. This type of fabric was also known in Ancient Egypt where royalty and priests wore clothing made of byssus. Linen byssus was used to wrap mummies of rich people.
Modern term “byssus” means silky filaments secreted by Pinna nobilis mollusk. It also refers to fabric made of this material. Confusion with the term occurred because of a mistake in translation and interpretation of of Aristotle’s History of animals made by Theodorus Gaza (1400-1475).
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