Thursday, June 14, 2012

Interesting Article On Iron Age Clothes

I'm not up for doing a long, detailed post tonight, but I'd like to direct those of you who may be interested in Iron Age Scandinavian clothing to this article that appeared recently on the Science Nordic site.

Archaeologist Ulla Mannering is taking another look at the Huldremose woman's clothing, which consists of a wool plaid skirt, a scarf, and two sheepskin capes.  It's been determined that the Huldremose woman was placed in the bog sometime in the second century BCE, information that's been available on the website of the National Museum of Denmark, which is where the Huldremose remains are kept. (You can find an excellent, zoomable picture of the entire ensemble, minus accessories, here.)

Two interesting facts are highlighted by the Science Nordic article.  One is that the Huldremose woman's clothing was originally dyed in bright colors--yellow, red, and blue--though it does not look like that today. Moreover, her outfit consists of a number of different types of textiles (including a cape that was made from the skins of at least 14 different sheep). The amount of different resources involved in making her costume shows that she was a high-ranking person in her place and time period.

But the more fascinating detail in the article, to me, is Mannering's suggestion that both bright color and pattern--such as the plaid of the Huldremose woman's skirt--first came to European clothing in the Iron Age. "That's 500 years earlier than previously thought," the article quotes her as saying.  Bronze Age clothing was uniformly monotone and undyed--something I hadn't realized.

The Science Nordic article doesn't mention whether Mannering is going to write a book or article on her new analysis and discovery, but I would be surprised if she does not, and I intend to keep a lookout for one.


  1. Thanks for the excellent link, gosh, I didn't realise 'tartan' was so old!

  2. You're welcome!

    "Tartan", in the sense of special designs associated with clans or families, isn't all that old, but plaid is ancient. It's also international--it turns up in Southeastern Asian textiles, for example.

  3. And plaid/tartan/checked fabric (what you call it depends on where in the world you are - it's another one of those fun terms like calico that can vary hugely in meaning) is also found in Pre-Colombian textiles.

    Is this new information? I've been lecturing on the difference in what the Huldremose woman's clothing looks like now, and what it originally looked like (with the tannins in the bog dyeing the fibres brown) for 5 years now, and how we see the emergence of plaids/tartans in the Iron Age Halsaat salt mine finds, and I'm hardly an expert in Bronze & Iron age textiles!

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  5. @ The Dreamstress: I wondered the same thing.

    Certainly it's been known for awhile that Iron Age textiles included plaids--Marguerite Hald included photographs (in black and white) of several examples in her book "Old Danish Textiles" (originally published in Danish in 1950; English translation first published in 1980). But I think the information that the Huldremose skirt was originally a bright, primary-colored plaid is new. It has not been usual to test archaeological fabrics to determine the chemical nature of the dyestuff used (about the only way to guess what the original color might have been) and still isn't. Recent work has made it clear that fabric that looks mud colored now could have been a bright color when new because of the way the chemical changes resulting from burial affects dye colors. I discussed an article on this subject from NESAT X here.