Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Question about Birka Find

A friend on one of the mailing lists I read pointed me to this web page which contains the following description of a textile find from grave 619 at Birka:
An early 9th century woman’s grave (619) yielded a beaver fur lined with hempcloth, and a mid-10th century woman’s grave (837) yielded the remains of a caftan lined with hempcloth. The texture of these two finds were similar in fineness to high quality linen.
The Historiska Museet contains an indexed database of the Birka finds, and I soon located the finds associated with grave 619 here. I assume that the find referred to as a "komposit fragment" is the one I'm looking for. However, I can't decipher much else about the entry, and I'm having trouble figuring out where it was found in the grave, or anything that would give a clue as to what type of item it might have been part of.

If any of my readers know anything more about the beaver fur lined with "hempcloth", please comment! I'd really appreciate it.


  1. Birka III, p. 15 says:

    Grab 619... Fragmente aus schütterem Stoff in dunkler Farbe mit undeutlicher Köpertextur (vierbindig?), ganz in der Nähe von Resten eines Biberfells liegend, die an einer Spange erhalten sind. Ungefähre Fadendichte wenigstens 15 per cm. Analysiert als Hanf.

    [Grab 619... Sparse fragments of fabric in a dark colour, with an indistinct twill texture (four-shaft?), lying quite close to the remains of a beaver fur, preserved in a brooch. Approximate density of at least 15 threads per inch. Analyzed as hemp.]

    Grab 837. Schütteres, zweibindiges Gewebe, sehr unscheinbare und brüchige Fragmente. Die Fäden sehr dünn und gleichsam miteinander verschmolzen. Die Fäden können nicht gezählt werden, dürften jedoch nicht mehr als 20 per cm sein. Analysiert als Hanf.

    [Grave 837. Sparse, two pieces of fabric bonded together, very inconspicuous and brittle fabrics. The threads are very fine and have fused to one another. The threads cannot be counted, but should not be more than 20 per cm. Analyzed as hemp.]

    Now, Geijer was more interested in the textiles themselves, than what they may have once been. I'd guess the designation of the fragment as a caftan would come from Hägg, which I don't have here, sorry.

  2. Thanks, pearl, for the quotes and translations. The association with a brooch may be why the Vikings of North England page I was referred to characterizes the find as a cloak, whether or not Hagg says that herself.

  3. I should point out the rather glaring typo I made, Grave 619 is 15 threads per centimetre, not inch. I have no idea what I was thinking.

  4. Yes, I see the inch-for-centimeter error; thanks for pointing it out.

    A friend of mine calls that kind of error a "thinko", because it isn't just a mistyped letter--it's more like using the wrong word altogether, for whatever reason.

  5. Sorry to comment so late, but I found a little bit more about beaver fur from Birka.

    Inga Hägg. 1986. “Die Tracht” in Birka II:2. Systematische Analysen der Gräberfunde (Stockholm:
    Almquist & Wiksell)

    p. 65
    "In einem Grab, Bj 507, gab es Reste von Grauwerk und Seide zu einer Obertunika. Die Seidenstreifen waren mit kleinen Metallstiften aus der Vorderseite angebracht; der Peltz diente als Bräme. Pelzverbrämung scheinen auch die Obertuniken in den Gräbern Bj 539, 543 (Biber), 557 (Marder) und 619 (Biber) gehabt zu haben."

    "In one grave, Bj 507, was the remains of vair [Grauwerk] and silk belonging to a caftan [Hägg calls it an over-tunic, but her description is of a coat]. The silk strips were attached from the front with little metal studs; the pelt served as trim. The caftans appearing in graves Bj 539, 543 (beaver), 557 (marten) and 619 (beaver), have had fur trimming."

  6. Pearl, I never mind late comments. I've set Blogger to tell me when I get a new comment, even if it's for an entry months old. New information is always wonderful!

    The snippet you've sent me is *very* enlightening. I was aware that there was a find that attached trim to a piece of garment with tiny metal studs, but I didn't know that the trim in question was fur! There are modern garments, of course, that attach fur collars to coats with metal snaps that must have served the same purpose. NOW the hemp backing makes sense--it was to support and strengthen the fur trim--again, modern fur collars often have a coarse fabric backing as well!

    Thank you! It's enlightening to realize that some clothing techniques haven't changed much over time.