Hello, it’s Emily, and I am reemerging from silence. It’s my pleasure to introduce a journal prompt series with a dear friend, Sophia.
Sophia Mirashrafi is a Digital Project Officer at Historic Environment Scotland, an author on the Historic Scotland blog, an avid hiker and runner, a voracious reader, and a repeat guest on my IG live #spreadlovenotcorona festival series. She’s also a kind and wise woman with a deep sense of curiosity and an eye for stories.
This (out of order, discursive, exploratory) journal prompt series is directly inspired by Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Journals, available here. All the prompts we use come from her, and we are grateful.
Without further ado, here is Sophia’s first entry: a letter to a stranger.
If you’ve ever had the privilege to handle something ancient, or even just to walk slowly through a museum, there is often a little voice in your head that asks who else knew these artefacts. What was their story before coming to rest behind glass?
But it’s never the jewels and treasure I’m interested in. I’ve always been drawn to the artefacts without shine: ordinary small things, the things that somebody would have used every day. I wrote my letter to a stranger from history who could answer that little voice in my head at the museum.
To whomsoever first owned this spindle,
Hello. I write this knowing that you and I have never met and will never meet. For one thing, you are from Cyprus and I am currently residing in Scotland. For another, you are likely to have lived around four thousand years ago. No matter, I write to extend my compliments to your spindle whorl.
(You’ll forgive my curiosity, archaeologists tend to be a little nosy when it comes to these things.)
Back when this belonged to you, I’m sure you would have found it silly to think where your well-used tool would end up in a few thousand years, if you thought about that kind of thing at all. I know I don’t often gaze at my pen and wonder what clues archaeologists will one day glean from it.
(Alright, I sometimes wonder about those kinds of things, but not often.)
This spindle whorl is, after all, a tool: something used to make wool into textiles, to spin and to drop. You’ll be glad to hear that this activity is not lost to time, still practiced in certain cultures around the world (and by certain craft-inclined close friends of mine), teasing wool into thread using gravity, spinning, and patience. I could never get the hang of it.
(What kinds of textiles did you use this spindle to make? Were they for yourself or to trade?)
Today, dear spinner, the whorl sits locked in a quiet corner of a Scottish university building, stoically motionless and unused behind glass. It has not spun in centuries, so it’s possible it does not remember what it is, relying on its tiny label as a reminder.
(Where did you store it when you weren’t spinning? Tell me, was the temperature regulated?)
I’d been asked to scan and document it, and so went to obtain the two sets of keys I needed to retrieve it from its resting place – slowly, using both hands, keeping it close to the table, ever careful.
(Did you walk around while you were spinning, or did you keep still?)
I gently placed the spindle on the turn-table, stepped back, and lifted the camera to my eye. Ah, see, this is what gets an archaeologist’s mind spinning: nothing like taking a few hundred photographs to later turn into a 3D model to allow for the study of small things.
(Did you give meaning to the little markings on the surface? Did they change when they spun?)
As I snapped my first picture I wondered if you and I were some of the only people in four thousand years to look this long at this small piece of terracotta, at the little grooved lines peppering its surface.
(Did you choose the designs or did you get it like this? Do you know who made it?)
This is a tool, dear spinner, so there is really no need for it to be this beautiful. How deeply human to take the time and care to curate the items around you. To make things beautiful.
(Was the spindle used by generations after you or was it lost?)
For you it spun textiles, for me it spins history. A spider thin thread stretching from Bronze Age Cyprus, to a little stone town by the sea in Scotland four thousand years later.
(From your deft and quick hands, dear spinner, to my deliberately slow and careful ones.)
What silent stories this retired little spindle has to tell. What varied roles it has held. How many does it remember? Four thousand years is a long time, and it has not spun for centuries.
(Maybe it is grateful for the stillness, maybe it misses the spin.)
21st Century AD
To learn more about the spindle and the other artefacts of the Bridges Collection, go to their website. For more information about Sophia’s work, check out her Twitter.