What is Straw? - History of Straw
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History of Straw

Straw
Straw

Straw is the dried stalks of tall grasses like wheat, millet or barley. After people harvested the seeds of these grasses for food, they used the straw for everything from shoes to mattresses to baskets.

People have been making straw into baskets, hats and other things since at least 10,000 BC. People used straw to make useful things all over the world, from Northern Europe to China and all over North America and South America too. Straw was cheap and there was plenty of it, and anyone could make things out of it without any special tools.

Basket
Straw basket from New Kingdom Egypt
(Vatican Museum, Rome)

You could just use the straw loose in heaps for animals or people to sleep on. Straw was softer than the ground to sleep on, and warmer. Also, when the straw got dirty you could rake it out of the house or barn and replace it with fresh straw. Schoolchildren also sat on straw on the ground.


A Korean weaver making a basket from straw

If you braided stalks of straw together into cords, you could use them to weave baskets or shoes or hats, or mats to walk on or sleep on.

People also mixed straw with plaster to make stronger plaster for the walls of their houses, and they mixed straw with clay to make bricks for mudbrick or baked brick buildings. Finally, they used straw to make thatched roofs for their houses as well.

Learn by doing: find a straw hat and check out what the straw is like.

More about straw:
Straw shoes
Thatched roofs
Wheat
Barley

Bibliography and further reading about straw:

Straw shoes
Thatched roofs
Wheat
Barley
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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