Name of Object:

Distaffs (five examples)


Mértola, Beja, Portugal

Holding Museum:

Museum of Mértola

About Museum of Mértola, Mértola.

Date of Object:

Hegira end of 5th–first half of 6th century / AD end of 11th–first half of 12th century

Museum Inventory Number:

OS/TR/003, 037, 042, 046, 057

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Animal bone. Carved from the bone with incised geometric decoration.


OS/TR/003: height 7.4 cm, width (max.) 2.4 cm; OS/TR/037: height 6.1 cm, width (max.) 2.1 cm, weight 29.4 g; OS/TR/042: height 7.9 cm, diameter (max.) 2.4 cm, weight 33.4 g; OS/TR/046: height 6.5cm, width (max.) 2.6 cm, diameter (max.) 1.9 cm, weight 29.4

Period / Dynasty:



Hillside and citadel of the Castle of Mértola.


Set of distaffs made from carved bone, with an upper circular horizontal section and lower circular or quadrangular horizontal section. These distaffs have different finishes from simple surface polishing to elaborate incised decorations forming single or groups of parallel lines in rows, circles with a central hole oriented in lines or in groups and concentric semi-circles intersecting one another. These objects correspond to the most decorated part of the distaff, which was an extremely important tool used in hand spinning.

View Short Description

A set of distaffs, the most ornate element of a spinning wheel and an essential part of the spinning process. These examples taken from Mértola Castle are decorated simply with incisions forming single or grouped parallel lines and interlinked concentric semi-circles.

How date and origin were established:

On the basis of the stratigraphy established in the various archaeological excavations carried out on the hillside and in the citadel of the Castle of Mértola and by comparison with other materials collected on the same levels of excavation and with other objects with the same characteristics.

How Object was obtained:

By means of archaeological excavations organised by the Campo Arqueológico de Mértola, carried out on the hillside of the Castle in 1986 and in the citadel of Mértola in 1978, 1992 and 1996.

Selected bibliography:

Macias, S., Mértola Islâmica. Estudo Histórico-Arqueológico do Bairro da Alcáçova (Sécs. XII/XIII), Mértola, 1996, p.89.
Macias, S. and Torres, C., Museu de Mértola: Arte Islâmica, Mértola, 2001, p.171.
Macias, S. and Torres, C., (eds.), Portugal Islâmico: Os últimos Sinais do Mediterrâneo, Lisbon, 1998, p.170.
Guia do Museu. Museu de Mértola – Arte Islâmica, Mértola, 2003, p.36.
Torres, C. and Silva, L. A. da, Mértola Vila Museu, Mértola, 1989, p.56.

Citation of this web page:

Lígia Rafael "Distaffs (five examples)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018.;ISL;pt;Mus01;14;en

Prepared by: Lígia RafaelLígia Rafael

Lígia Rafael é licenciada em História pela Universidade de Évora. Desempenha funções de Técnica Superior de História no Museu de Mértola, tendo especialmente a seu cargo a gestão de pessoal, a conservação e restauro de materiais não cerâmicos e o estudo dos materiais metálicos. Desde 1987 é colaboradora do Campo Arqueológico de Mértola, tendo participado em todos os projectos ligados ao Museu de Mértola, tanto em questões museográficas e de conservação, mas também no estudo materiais como é o caso do Estudo do armamento islâmico procedente da escavação na Encosta do Castelo e na Alcáçova de Mértola publicado na revista Arqueologia Medieval (Porto: Ed. Afrontamento, 1999) e Os materiais não cerâmicos do período islâmico publicado no Catálogo Museu de Mértola - Arte Islâmica (Mértola: Campo Arqueológico de Mértola, 2001).

Translation by: Gilla Evans
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: PT 18


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