Waay back in 2004, I wrote a research paper on the history of knitting, for an English class that required a research paper. Eventually, after some chaos and shuffling, it became the Knitty article that I wrote about the history of knitting, in 2006. For both projects, I stuck to the facts and avoided most of my more interesting conclusions, because it was entirely theory and I'm not an expert, so it was basically just some person who read some books, making guesses.
Archeology has produced a lot of solid evidence that knitting was invented in Egypt, or by nomads near Egypt, about a thousand years ago. Considering how little ANYTHING survives a thousand years, it's a significant amount of evidence, and as far as I'm concerned, there's no real question over it. We could argue over the exact date, and the exact location, but in general, the information is solid. (I'm of the opinion that knitting was invented a few hundred years earlier than what we've got evidence for, because the scraps of knitting we have are all very complex and fancy - lots of color, etc - and that takes a while to develop.)
The big question, to my mind, is how knitting got from Egypt into Europe.
The most accepted theory - and quite valid - is that knitting moved along North Africa with the Arab people, up into Spain (which was occupied by Arabs from 711 to 1492, exactly the time frame we're talking about), and from there into the rest of Europe. Artifacts and trade routes and what is known bear that out. But there's another route into Europe, that we, in the West, never think about.
Now that I've had a few years to think about it and look at maps, I suspect that knitting ALSO got up into Europe through the 'back door' - Through Istanbul/the bosporous, the Black Sea, and up into Russia and from there west. Knitting was revolutionary, and I imagine ANYONE who knew about it, wanted to know how to do it, or at least buy lots and trade it down the road for a big profit (imagine wearing woven socks, and you get my point). The Black Sea route was a major trade route at the time, and I can't imagine knitting NOT traveling along it.
The only real evidence is Orenburg lace. It's unusual enough, and dates back far enough, that a case can be made that it was developed independently of any lace traditions in Western Europe. It's got several unusual techniques that aren't seen in the West (the way edgings are put on, how color is used, etc) and it's entirely possible it's a unique tradition.
Unfortunately, thanks to politics, the Black Sea route has never been studied or excavated to the same degree as Western Europe has been, so we don't have the piles of artifacts to support the theory (at least, we don't know about the artifacts in the West, which comes to the same thing as not having them).
I've also been looking at motifs in knitting - mostly color knitting - and there seem to be two schools. Western Europe originally copied THINGS - family crests, writing, fake rings on gloves, birds, snowflakes, that sort of thing (still does, to a great degree). In the East, they used abstract patterns that often have interchangeable backgrounds and foregrounds. The Steeked Jacket pattern (which is adapted from a Turkish sock pattern) is a prime example:
Which is the background? The blue or the pink? This kind of thing is classic for Eastern patterns, and Baltic. If you figure the Black Sea route connects the Baltic cultures to central Asia, it would explain a lot. Not proof, but it's food for thought.
Thoughts, comments, arguments? Anyone?