WAS THE KILT INVENTED IN AUSTRIA?
A promotional article appearing on the Ananova web site (among other places) claims just that. This strange notion comes from one Mr. Thomas Rettl, who is marketing various tartans found in archaeological digs in Austria (see the Carinthian and Styrian tartans). There is nothing wrong with taking old tartans from such finds and reviving them. In fact, should these regions in Austria wish to be represented by a district tartan, adopting one of these old specimens would be a marvelous idea. But any serious historian would have to object to some of the ridiculous claims being made to promote these tartans.
First of all, the article claims that these are the oldest tartans in the world, dating to at least 320 BC. While they are certainly old, much older than any of the popular Scottish clan tartans, they cannot claim to be the oldest in the world. Tartan cloth dating to around 1200 BC has been found in the deserts of Taklamakan, China. Older tartan cloth may yet be discovered.
They also claim that tartan was not woven in Scotland until 1300 AD. This is another false claim. Surviving pieces of tartan have been found in Scotland that date to 250-325 AD (the Falkirk tartan). As the climate in Scotland is not the best for preserving textiles, we do not know how much earlier tartan cloth may have been woven.
That tartan has been found produced outside of Scotland, and from an early date, should surprise no one. Anywhere that people developed the technology to produce woven cloth, they likely also produced some sort of tartan design. After weaving plain cloth, the next logical step to make the cloth more decorative is to weave in stripes. And if the stripes are repeated in both the warp and the weft, you have a simple tartan. But only in Scotland has tartan been taken to such a high art form and imbued with cultural significance.
Mr. Rettl makes the leap of logic that if tartan was early worn in Austria, the kilt must have been worn there, as well. "Ever since we found out that Austria was the true home to tartan we have been doing a roaring trade," he is quoted as saying. "It was found not in Scotland but in a place called Molzbichl in Carinthia in Austria. The Celts who conquered Scotland originally came from Europe, which would back our claim to have had the kilt first."
The problem with his thinking is that tartan does not equal the kilt. One can find paintings of Japanese women in tartan kimonos, but that does not mean that they were wearing the kilt! A quick study into the history of Scottish Highland dress reveals that the kilt, as we know it today, evolved (in Scotland) from the untailored feilidh-beag, which in turn evolved from the feilidh-mhor or belted plaid, first worn in the Scottish Highlands in the late sixteenth century. To imagine invading Celts coming to Scotland from Austria in pre-historic times, wearing tartan kilts, is pure fiction! To make such a claim seriously is embarrassing (and would also contradict his other erroneous claim that tartan was not worn in Scotland until 1300 AD).
So while we applaud the effort to promote a traditional Austrian tartan, and are honored that Austrians would want to wear the Scottish national dress, we implore the promoters of these items to stop making such baseless, unhistorical claims.