Part 1: Viking Age Textile Production
The aim of the first part of the project is to make Viking Age textile production visible and tactile. This part has its starting point in analyses of known archaeological finds of textile tools, textiles, skins and fibres from graves and settlements. By using controlled fibre sorting, spinning and weaving experiments we recreate a selection of textile samples that convey tactile and visual aspects of the Viking Age cloth culture. Three of the planned samples are based on textile finds from Hedeby Habour in Northern Germany. This locality is selected because it represents a different selection of textiles and production techniques than seen in contemporary grave finds. Likewise it is important that a large part of the Hedeby textiles have been identified as parts of known garment types that were made for everyday use.
The outcome of Part 1 is a wooden chest, the so-called “Textile & Tool Box” that will contain textile samples as well as reconstructed textile tools and fiber samples. The chest is based on the chest from Mästermyr, Gotland in Sweden and can be used for exhibition, outreach and teaching purposes at universities and museums.
Our conservator, Irene Skals, has made analyses of the wool fibres from all the sampled archaeological textile finds from Hedeby Habour and compared the wool qualities with samples from different modern sheep breeds. The result matched fleeces coming from the Spelsau sheep, and together with several Swedish and Danish sheep breeders, the raw material for the reconstructed samples were selected. In general, the sampled Viking Age wool has proven to be much coarser than the wool earlier recorded from the Danish Bronze and Early Iron Ages.
Ida Demant is in charge of the experimental and reconstruction work and has during the winter 2018/2019 produced the first textile samples. One is based on the textile find H2 from Hedeby Habour, interpreted as part of a spencer dress. The warp was spun on a drop spindle with a 20 g whorl on a 19 cm long spindle. The weft was spun with a 15 g whorl on a 19 cm long spindle. The weaving of the 60 cm x 60 cm tabby textile took place in January with a weaving speed about 3 cm/hour. Tools and textile samples will be included in the “Textile & Tool Box”.
Part 2: Viking Age Male and Female Clothing
The aim of the second part of the project is to reconstruct a male and a female outfit, based on the content in two Danish inhumation graves. The selected male grave from Mammen is dated to AD 970-971, while the female grave from Hvilehøj is dated to the late 900s. The graves are located near Viborg and Randers respectively, in Denmark. In spite of the fact, that the textiles from both graves are very fragmented, they are nevertheless much larger than what is in average preserved in Viking Age graves in Denmark.
The outcome of Part 1 is two high-status outfits that can be used for exhibition, outreach and teaching purposes at universities and museums.
The analyses of the textile and skin fragments from Mammen and Hvilehøj was started in the winter 2018/2019 and are still ongoing, taking place at the Conservation Department at the National Museum of Denmark in Brede. All objects have been photographed by the Roberto Fortuna and Jenny Sundby with their high resolution camera. Photos with light from beneath have revealed an until now unrecognized world of stitch holes in some of the textile fragments, representing degraded and now lost sewing and embroidery.
The textile-technical analyses include measurements of fragment size, fibre type, thread diameter, thread density, twist directions ect. Analyses of skin/fur, tanning methods, dye stuffs, tablet weaves, silk samites, beads, iron objects, shoes and feathers/down are still ongoing and done by specialist. In order to reunite the embroidered fragments from the Mammen grave, we use Photoshop to give each pattern thread a colour code and hereby try to puzzle the fragments together. The next step is to decide the clothing patterns for each garment in the two outfits and find suitable materials for the reconstruction.
Part 3: Viking Age Clothing and Textile Catalogue
The aim of the third part of the project is to create an overview of the many different sources linked to Viking Age clothing design. The archaeological sources consist of preserved skin and textiles, but also jewelry and other accessorizes. Iconographic sources, such as gold foil figures, pendants and tapestries contribute with knowledge about visual appearance and combinations of clothing items. Other important sources are contemporary and later written sources, such as the Icelandic Sagas, travel descriptions and chronicles. As many sources as possible are gathered in order to show the variation of Viking Age life and avoid garment stereotypes.
The outcome of Part 3 is an online open-access clothing catalogue, intended as a new platform and base for future interpretations and reconstructions of Viking Age clothing expressing different societal and status segments.
We have already begun reading the Icelandic Sagas and other sources, extracting all words about textile, clothing, sails, general looks and hygiene. The words are entered in a database that will be accessible online.
Centre for Textile Research
We collaborate with Centre for Textile Research (CTR) at University of Copenhagen. The center focus strongly on textile history and archaeology via substantial research programs as well as via research training of young scholars. It has a variety of activities connected to textile history and involving universities, museums and design schools. Read more about CTR.