Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Little Detour Into Glove History

Recently, someone inquired on Yahoo's Norsefolk_2 list whether the Vikings were known to have worn gloves.

Someone on the Yahoo nalbinding list attempted to answer the question by  reporting that Thor Ewing, in his book Viking Clothing, that "the usual gloves found in Viking contexts had two 'fingers'"....

Although at least one saga refers to "catskin" gloves, I know of no Viking age finds of gloves or glove parts, so I eagerly went to my bookshelf to discover what Ewing's sources for such a statement might be. It turns out that the index of Viking Clothing contains only two references to "gloves." One merely mentions the "catskin glove" saga reference (from Eiríks saga Rauđa). The other passage is short, and it is my belief from its contents that the poster on the nalbinding list was simply paraphrasing it. Ewing's statement, which begins with useful references to gloves in the sagas, reads:
The term glófi is probably a late borrowing from Old English, and is used for a new style of costly decorated glove, similar to a medieval bishop's glove.  In Gull-Þhóris saga ch. 3, glófar enhance the description of a richly dressed man, while gold-adorned glófar occur in Njáls saga ch. 31, as well as in the saga romances Bósa saga ok Herrauđs (ch. 12) and Ӧrvar-Odds saga (ch. 19).  Archaeological evidence suggests that most ordinary gloves will have had just two finger compartments, each for two fingers, but the glófi clearly had four separate fingers, and in Bósa saga ok Herrauđs, Bósi even plays harp wearing glófar. (Viking Clothing, p. 122) (boldface emphasis mine).
This paragraph ends Ewing's two-paragraph section on Viking gloves (and the first paragraph consists primarily of additional saga references and discussion of words used in the sagas that may or may not refer to gloves). Conspicuous by its absence is any discussion of archaeological finds, or even "archaeological evidence" for Viking gloves, let alone of evidence that such gloves likely had only two finger compartments.

Inspired by frustration, I did a little digging for Viking glove finds on the Internet. I didn't find any. But I have found a very interesting website that has collected links to surviving medieval European gloves as well as medieval art depicting gloves. The page, which mostly shows the four-fingered type of glove, may be found here. One of the more interesting links is to this blog, which displays a photograph of the blogger's own reproduction of a medieval work glove with only two finger compartments and references the relevant miniature in the Luttrell Psalter. The blogger has her own collection of links to images of gloves and pictures of surviving gloves, which may be found here, but none of those gloves are Scandinavian, let alone attributable to the Viking age. Karen Larsdatter's medieval artifacts page also lacks any Viking era gloves, though she does have links to a number of photographs on the Historiska Museet's website showing a surprising number of leather mittens from Sweden that are dated to the medieval period. All of these leather handwear items have only a single compartment for all four fingers and are clearly mittens.

All of this is a useful warning not to take offhand remarks even in scholarly sources as evidence of hard facts.  But it also makes me wonder what "archaeological evidence" Mr. Ewing was thinking about when he wrote the language I quoted above.  If any of my readers have any information on this subject, please let me know, and I will share it here.  I have to admit that I find it hard to believe that Viking era Scandinavians did not use protective handwear, and the glove with two finger compartments (which I've also seen referred to as a "three-fingered mitten" seems like a plausible candidate.

22 comments:

  1. I saw that post on the Norsefolk list and considered posting about the gloves in the Moshchevaya Balka finds. Those are not Viking finds, even though the clothing finds there do provide the basis for most "eastern viking kaftan" reconstructions I have seen to date.

    Here is a link to the glove in the Hermitage:
    http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/02/hm2_3_0_7_4.html

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    1. Interesting. Thank you; I was not familiar with that particular find at Moshchevaya Balka. It is, of course, a four-fingered glove find, so it isn't the evidence for "two finger compartment" gloves to which Ewing referred.

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  2. Have you seen the new news story with the pre-Viking *fabric* mitten?

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    1. I'm not sure. Is that the same one that mentioned the full tunic found somewhere in Sweden because of melting glaciers?

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    2. I looked for news articles and yes, I had seen some of the news coverage of the new finds, except I got the country wrong; it was Norway, not Sweden. I haven't seen much detail about the mitten, though. Reuters only says that a "A Viking mitten dating from the year 800" was found without describing the mitten or providing a picture. M24Digital.com referred to the non-tunic finds, apparently wrongly, as "a glove and a stick ornamented Vikings 800 AD", and NBC News, like Reuters, referred to the item simply as a Viking mitten. Where did you learn that the mitten is fabric? Did you find a picture of it?

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  3. There is a list of some mitten/glove finds here, though I think they are all medieval and I don't know how complete the list is (I'm relying on Google translate): http://www.kongshirden1308.no/utstyr/hansker_votter.htm

    The only other gloves/mittens I know of (minus the three-fingered mittens in medieval art, which I've reproduced and are weird but awesome) are a pair of fabric mittens described here: http://web.comhem.se/~u41200125/Uvdal31.html

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    1. Hi, Panth! Thanks for the new link list. It's a lovely selection of surviving handwear finds, though based on my Google Translate result, all of those items are dated to the 11th century and onward. The early examples, whether nalbinded or leather, are all mittens (one finger compartment) and the later ones are gloves (four finger compartments); there are no two-finger-compartment items (though the page also references the two-finger-compartment gloves depicted in the Luttrell Psalter).

      I've seen Eva's page on her Uvdal recreation before, but it was good to be reminded of it. That find is, I think, 14th century, but is in any event post-Viking. They were cloth mittens, however, and sewn from wool fabric like the new find. Interesting information.

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  4. I would love to see his archaeological evidence. Is he going for medieval finds and extrapolating backwards?

    Be aware though, if using Swedish sources, that the difference between mitten and gloves (vantar, handskar) is not dependent on whether they have fingers or not, but on material: "vantar" are made of yarn, "handskar" of leather (or fine fabric). For example, if you are a knitter looking for patterns, you might want to add searches for "tumvantar" or "fingervantar", depending on if you're after mittens or gloves. Handskar are normally with four fingers, unless specified.

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  5. Hi, ossmenta, welcome!

    One issue here is that if Ewing is right, it's unclear what the relevant search would be. I don't know whether the handwear Ewing was attributing to the Vikings was fabric or leather.

    Since one of my readers noted that a "fabric mitten" was found in Norway and the news articles claim that the item, whatever it really is, dates to about 800 (i.e., shortly before the Viking age) I suppose I can try looking for "vantar." But would it be "tumvantar" since it has more than one compartment for fingers?

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    1. Tumvantar only has an extra compartment for the thumb. There are as far as I know no specific term for the two-finger mitten/glove. However, I'm an archaeologist, not a linguist, so there may be an archaic term floating around somewhere.

      Synj-munki's link below (http://www.nrk.no/kultur-og-underholdning/1.10958978) shows the glacier mitten (vott in Norwegian), and it's clearly made of fabric rather than naalbinding.

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    2. I'm not surprised that there is no term for "two-finger-compartment hand covering" since there do not seem to be examples. By the way, my searches for vantar and tumvanter so far have yielded many images of modern mittens (and a few pointers to manuscripts of knitting patterns for mittens) but no historical examples. I'll see what searching for "vott" does.

      You are right about the glacier mitten. I will keep an eye out to see whether anyone confirms that it was made from the same diamond wool twill as the tunic.

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  6. I mostly see mittens in Viking archaeological contexts--

    referring the glacier finds, This photo is described by different sites as the 300AD tunic and the 800AD Viking woolen mitten taken from the melting glacier.
    http://www.iol.co.za/polopoly_fs/iol-scitech-march-22-viking-rag-1.1490120!/image/2833764103.jpg_gen/derivatives/box_300/2833764103.jpg

    I *think* this is the mitten after conservation
    http://gfx.nrk.no/Rgeu1UMJQ23gVYeRZzuifgYpG07oSwe7EytR2PTZdXCw.jpg
    from http://www.nrk.no/kultur-og-underholdning/1.10958978

    wool fabric sock, mitten, and kid's pair of mittens with idiot cord, from the Nat'l museum of Iceland
    http://lh5.ggpht.com/-BpB4isIDqUw/TiCjxq9aNII/AAAAAAAAAGM/615VSgR7_fY/s1600-h/P1040881%25255B5%25255D.jpg
    better pics
    http://www.vikingsofbjornstad.com/MyImages/M_Reykjavik_1288.jpg
    http://www.vikingsofbjornstad.com/MyImages/M_Reykjavik_1289.jpg
    http://www.vikingsofbjornstad.com/MyImages/M_Reykjavik_1291.jpg

    those mittens I believe are the ones discussed here along with a description of a fabric mitten
    http://www.medieval-baltic.us/vikmitten.html (she even has a complete bibligraphy, *wipes tear from face*).
    some more discussion from same person, more mittens, these naalbinding
    http://www.nrk.no/kultur-og-underholdning/1.10958978

    from the same museum a naalibinding mitten rom 10th C (Iceland)
    http://www.vikingsofbjornstad.com/MyImages/M_Reykjavik_1299.jpg


    (apologies if you were just thinking of gloves and already know about these)

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  7. Hi, synj-munki.

    Re: the recent Norwegian find that inspired my post--I had found some great photographs of the tunic, but hadn't found any of the mitten; thanks. The photo of the mitten is very interesting; it looks as though the finger and thumb compartments are sewn from one piece of cloth and the rest of the mitten from another. It also looks as though the mitten may be made from the same diamond twill wool as the tunic. That wouldn't surprise me; I would expect fabric mittens to be made from cloth scraps left over from making bigger items of clothing. The Icelandic images you provided links for are also enlightening; I had forgotten, if I knew it, that there is a nalbinded mitten find from Iceland that's Viking age.

    Also thanks for referring me back to pearl's mitten essay collection of images. For some reason I thought they were all late (e.g., 16th century CE or later) but in fact they are Viking age or relatively (as archaeology goes) close to it. It is especially interesting to see the different cutting patterns used for the fabric mittens. Devising a mitten doesn't take much of a leap of intellect (I bet I would have come up with the idea, if I had fabric, scissors, thread and cloth and it was cold) but the variety of patterns is intriguing. A consequence of attempts to use small pieces of leftover fabric, or of different women, each reinventing the mitten idea for themselves, or both?

    But NONE of this provides any reason to believe that Viking age Scandinavians used the two-finger-compartment design for hand coverings. I'm inclined to believe that Ewing was wrong, but I still wonder what he was thinking about when he made his statement about them.

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    1. Yup, like i said, i've only seen mittens with good Viking archaeological context.

      though i do love the weird aesthetic of the split-mitts/two-finger-glove...

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  8. Hi!
    As I have already mentioned in Norsefolk list- to my knowledge one of the earliest find is glove from Riga: http://www.history-museum.lv/english/media/mosaic/atdari/gloves.jpg This is nalbinded but dated to 13th century...

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  9. Yes, I saw the photograph of the gloves! I hadn't previously realized that gloves could be nalbinded. Thanks for mentioning it here.

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  10. Thank you for the looking for more info, and thank you for what you've found and posted!

    (I was the one to post on Norsefolk...)

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    1. Hi, Sam! I'm glad I could be of service. Thanks for your question to the Norsefolk_2 list (which has educated me as well as yourself and others) and thanks for stopping by.

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  11. The only extant two-fingered glove I know of is the leather one from Aalst on the Kongshirden website, but I recently saw more information about it somewhere...
    This isn't it: http://www.archeonet.be/?p=575


    Still, a 15th century leather glove isn't Viking Age, though.

    (I need to update that webpage with the Norwegian mitten find, too...)

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  12. Hi, pearl! Welcome back!

    Right: the one leather two-fingered glove on the Kongshirden page is 15th century. The one in your URL above is clearly a mitten. If you do recall where you saw information about the two-fingered glove, though, please comment again!

    It's possible, of course, that the Vikings used the two-fingered design only as work gloves, which may explain the lack of survivals. Tjat's a theory without proof, though. I really do wonder what Ewing had in mind when he made his statement.

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  13. PhDs are wonderful/horrible time sinks, that's all I can say. :)

    Here's what I was remembering, but on re-reading it isn't as detailed as I thought: https://www.facebook.com/groups/460750480615188/permalink/542841479072754/

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    1. Thanks for digging this up! Still no link to the Vikings, of course (Belgium, and 15th century), but after all the medieval artwork depicting them it's good to see an actual two-fingered glove find.

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