History of Wool

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A thoroughly very modern fibre – that's 10,000 years old

Throughout Bibilical times, the Greeks and the Romans, the Dark Ages and the Renaissance, all the way to the era of discovery, exploration and settlement, sheep have performed their marvellous double duty of feeding and clothing mankind.

Throughout history, the complexity and versatility of the unique woollen fibre has led to its amazingly broad range and multi-purpose usage in woollens. 

As sheep and wool have been a part of human civilisation ever since making, the history of wool is therefore complex. Below are a few important mile stones in wool's history.

Ancient History

Even before 10,000 BC wool was an important fibre to clothe primitive human tribes. Very quickly wool was being spun and woven in Mesopotamia but also other northern European tribes. Spinning and weaving tools were relatively basic.

Spreading the Sheep and Wool Culture

The mobility of sheep allowed Persians, Greeks and Romans to easily distribute and therefore introduce sheep and their wool across Europe. Throughout the Roman empire wool fleeces became superior through selective breeding. 

The Britons

The history of Britain's leading wool manufacturing industry is said to have developed with spinning and weaving around 1900 BC. 

Roman Wool Plant in Winchester

The Romans highly valued the Britons weaving skills. The establishment of the Roman wool plant in Winchester, England in 50 AD helped the Britons to improve their methods. 

Migration of Skilled Weavers

During the twelfth century Greek weavers were sent to Italy as slaves after the Norman conquest of Greece which stimulated the Italian weaving industry to extraordinary work. In the 14th century Flemish weavers fled the Spanish invasion to settle in England where the wool industry thrived in return. 

Death Penalty on Exporting Sheep

Sheep and their wool were such an important economic force during the 15th to 18th centuries, that countries such as Spain and England had periods when they prohibited exports of sheep and raw wool. By 1660 two-thirds of England's foreign commerce was based on wool textile exports. In Spain the death penalty of exporting sheep was lifted in 1786. 

Foundation of the Wool Industry outside of Europe

In 1789, two Spanish Merino Rams and six Spanish Merino ewes arrived in South Africa after they had been gifted by the Spanish King to the Dutch Royal House of Orange where they could not adjust to the cold and rainy weather. In South Africa however, the Spanish Merino sheep thrived. Later some descendents of the Spanish Merino Sheep were sent further on to Australia. 

Arrival of the First Merino Sheep to Australia

In 1797 the first Merino sheep were introduced into Australia. The sheep were descendants of the Royal Merino Flock of Spain. Through selective breeding Australian farmers soon produced the fine Australian Merino wool to be shipped to England for manufacturing.