By Frank G. Shineman
In-depth research shows us that the history of the use of Hemp dates back to approximately 8000 B.C. The Columbia History of the World tells us that the oldest relic of human industry found was hemp fabric.This was determined through a scientific dating process.
Hemp has had a very active but controversial history through the 1970’s. But for the purpose of this report, we are going to focus specifically on how hemp was used in the manufacture of fishing nets and fabric in ancient history.
The first evidence of hemp fishing nets dates back to 730 A.D. in England. However, in this case, we should note that it wasn’t just hemp alone that was used in fishing nets. Rather, the historical record shows that it was used in conjunction with fibers from the nettle plant. Apparently, there were attributes in each of these two plants (hemp and nettle) which made a superior fishing net. This combination was not used just for nets themselves but also for bags holding fish and for transporting fish in great volume. Hemp fishing nets began to be used at about 1000 A.D. in England and Scotland for about a period of two hundred years. By the year 1200 A.D. the widespread use of hemp had died out as well as in most of Scotland. The cause of this was an increased demand by the gentry for woodlands, and therefore the massive hemp growing fields had to be eradicated. Though, even after that drastic change, the hemp crop maintained a high level of importance in areas adjacent to Scottish fishing villages. Records show that this practice continued unabated through the eighteenth century.
The Development of Hemp Fibers for Fabric
Archaeologists have discovered the earliest use of hemp for fabric was on the Oki Islands of Japan. It never seemed to develop in Japan very much for unknown reasons. It was the Chinese around 5000 B.C. who really began to develop this practice of replacing animal skins as clothing with the first primitive hemp fabric. The Chinese efforts in using hemp for fabric eventually led them to use hemp for shoes, rope, and a primitive form of paper. It has been reported that the Chinese have been accredited with the realization that twisted strands are much stronger and longer lasting than single strands. This great discovery eventually led the Chinese to develop mechanical means to spin and weave fibers. It was about this time in history that the ancient custom of using animal skins for clothing quickly began to die out. There was one factor in ancient Chinese culture that sped up the demise of skins as clothing. There was a text in Chinese culture that everyone knew about called “The Book of Rites.” These were volumes of acceptable rules and ideas for Chinese citizens of that time to apply in their daily lives. In other words, whatever was written in the Book of Rites now became the standard for all Chinese to follow, and animal skins were phased out.
As we can see it was the Chinese who were the pioneers in hemp fiber development for clothing. Later in the 14th and 15th centuries, this practice spread first to Japan and later to Korea.