Pre-Viking and Viking textiles from Norway

Thursday, 21st March, 2013

These finds are so interesting that I am straying from British and Irish archaeology for this post:-

Pre-Viking tunic found by glacier as warming aids archaeology

Kjortel-narbilde

pre-Viking woollen tunic found beside a thawing glacier in south Norway shows how global warming is proving something of a boon for archaeology, scientists said on Thursday.
The greenish-brown, loose-fitting outer clothing – suitable for a person up to about 176 cms (5 ft 9 inches) tall – was found 2,000 metres (6,560 ft) above sea level on what may have been a Roman-era trade route in south Norway.
Carbon dating showed it was made around 300 AD.
“It’s worrying that glaciers are melting but it’s exciting for us archaeologists,” Lars Pilø, a Danish archaeologist who works on Norway’s glaciers, said at the first public showing of the tunic, which has been studied since it was found in 2011.

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A Viking mitten dating from 800 AD and an ornate walking stick,

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a Bronze age leather shoe, ancient bows, and arrow heads used to hunt reindeer are also among 1,600 finds in Norway’s southern mountains since thaws accelerated in 2006.
“This is only the start,” Pilø said, predicting many more finds.
One ancient wooden arrow had a tiny shard from a seashell as a sharp tip in an intricate bit of craftsmanship.

The 1991 discovery of Otzi, a prehistoric man who roamed the Alps 5,300 years ago between Austria and Italy, is the best known glacier find. In recent years, other finds have been made from Alaska to the Andes, many because glaciers are receding.
The shrinkage is blamed on climate change, stoked by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.
The archaeologists said the tunic showed that Norway’s Lendbreen glacier, where it was found, had not been so small since 300 AD. When exposed to air, untreated ancient fabrics can disintegrate in weeks because of insect and bacteria attacks.
“The tunic was well used – it was repaired several times,” said Marianne Vedeler, a conservation expert at Norway’s Museum of Cultural History.
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The tunic is made of lamb’s wool with a diamond pattern that had darkened with time. Only a handful of similar tunics have survived so long in Europe.
The warming climate is have an impact elsewhere.
Patrick Hunt, a Stanford University expert who is trying to find the forgotten route that Hannibal took over the Alps with elephants in a failed invasion of Italy in 218 BC, said the Alps were unusually clear of snow at 2,500 metres last summer.
Receding snows are making searching easier.
“I favour the Clapier-Savine Coche route (over the Alps) after having been on foot over at least 25 passes including all the other major candidates,” he told Reuters by e-mail.
The experts in Oslo said one puzzle was why anyone would take off a warm tunic by a glacier.
One possibility was that the owner was suffering from cold in a snowstorm and grew confused with hypothermia, which sometimes makes suffers take off clothing because they wrongly feel hot.

Viking woollen sock from York link

Update: Another mitten pic (looking very much as if it is of woven material):

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5 Responses to “Pre-Viking and Viking textiles from Norway”

  1. Lois Says:

    Fascinating, absolutely fascinating… worrying though climate change is, I’m gad there are some tiny good things associated with it.

  2. Katherine Says:

    About the mitten: I could tell better if the photo were larger, but I do believe that is the purl side of stockinette stitch in knitting if it isn’t nålebinding (a needle-made fabric). That is an excitingly early date for knitting.


  3. Wow…amazing how long the fabric lasted. The mitten looks like I could put it on, it’s in such good condition. And the hypothermia explanation for why they were taken off in the first place was interesting. Thanks for the interesting read!

  4. Saesnes Says:

    Thank you for your comments Lois, Katherine and History Kicks Ass.
    Lois – as you say, at least something positive can be associated with climate change. That these artefacts are being found where they are would suggest that there have been other periods of warming, prior to the one we are experiencing now.
    Katherine – I agree, from the image (which is the only one that I could find), the mitten certainly has the appearance of knitting. Although, if it were knitted, I would expect much more press coverage and excitement about it. Surviving Viking Age mittens tend to be of woven textile, sewn from woollen vaðmál, or made from yarn using the method called nålebinding (examples are in the National Museum of Iceland) and it is difficult to establish, from the photograph, just quite how this mitten is made. Usually, with the mittens made by nålebinding, a ‘rib’ or ‘grain’, created by the method of working, runs crosswise around the hand and fingers, starting and building up from the wrist. This mitten appears to have been patched, maybe with an odd scrap piece with the ‘grain’ running in a different direction. I am presuming that the claims, for the age of the mitten being from the Viking-era, have been confirmed by radiocarbon dating in the same way as the woven tunic, but until either a clearer image of the mitten, or a more detailed report of its structure emerges, I can only speculate.
    History Kicks Ass – yes, these textiles are an amazing survival, kept on ice all this time!

  5. Saesnes Says:

    Katherine – I have replaced the small mitten image with a larger one and linked it to an enlarged section image of the mitt on the web. Unfortunately, it is not the part that looks as if it is knitted. The link does, however, confirm that some parts of the mitt are woven.

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