Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Russian Language Article About The Pskov Find

As is often the case, I found this article about the Pskov find while I was looking for something else. It's written in Russian, but the photographs of the textile fragments from Pskov are much clearer and more informative than any other photographs I've seen so far--including the photographs in the official report published in NESAT X. Moreover, the pictures are clickable so that the viewer can see small, medium and large versions, and the amount of detail visible in the medium and large versions is impressive.

The article also includes sketches showing possible reconstructions of the apron dress found in the grave that are different than those offered in the official archaeologists' report. My guess is that this web article was written by a Russian reenactor who has read the Pskov team's reports and is making deductions based on the information.

I don't read Russian, but running the page through Google Translate has enabled me to understand enough of the article to determined the gist of the author's suggestions about the find.

As others have done, the article observes that the Pskov apron dress could have been worn wrapped around the body, with the decorated panel in back and the opening in the front.  However, this version makes the panel, with its applied decoration of antique silk, harder to see, and is difficult to justify on that basis.

The other suggestion the author makes is more interesting. The author suggests that the front panel was huge precisely because the intended wearer of the dress was very large. We have no information about the wearer of the Pskov apron dress because the dress fragments were found folded inside a birchbark box found in the grave, not on a body, and no body was found. The author states that if the apron dress when draped as a tube was 152 cm (about 59 inches) across, it would fit perfectly if the wearer had a girth of 180 cm (about 70 inches). The front panel would just about cover the upper front of her body, while the rest of the apron dress would completely surround the lower part. Under this view, the Pskov reconstructors theory about how the apron dress was worn is correct, except that there would be no front sagging if the woman was large enough.

This suggestion is not crazy. The Central Asian woman buried in the 13th century CE grave that I blogged about previously was buried in trousers that were 162 cm wide.

The author of this essay also notes that there are at least two ways to reconstruct the linen shift found in the Pskov grave, namely, as a pieced Western style t-tunic with long, straight sleeves, or like the Russian shifts still found in "folk costume", with a gathered neckline and wide, puffy sleeves gathered at the wrists, like a modern "peasant" style blouse.  However, what the grave contains actually shows a combination of these forms. There is evidence of a linen garment with gathered neckline, pleated to a narrow strip of fabric that likely was tied, and wide, straight cuffs trimmed with silk. These facts suggest that the neckline was gathered and tied while the sleeves of the shift were straight--again paralleling what the official reconstructors have deduced. That suggests that the woman's costume is a hybrid of the typical costumes of two different cultures--Slavic and Scandinavian.

Perhaps such hybrids were more typical than we can easily confirm. This article in Fornvannen discusses a number of finds in the Gnezdovo area (not far from Pskov) of iron neckrings (a more Slavic style) bearing one or more Thor's hammers. The author's thought is that the hammers were worn by Scandinavian settlers, but it's just as possible that some of the wearers were individuals influenced by both cultures--perhaps the children of Scandinavians who intermarried with the Slavs of the area.    More research will certainly be needed to reconstruct the costume worn by women in this part of the world during the Viking period.

12 comments:

  1. I just want to point out, that in the Russian circles there is consistently a statement floating around that the woman was more the 180 cm tall, based on minor skeletal evidence that remained in the grave. She was also supposedly substantially old, about 80 years, again, based on skeletal evidence which original source I cannot find. The article you quote mentions it towards the end as well. I'd love to agree with "the lady was large" interpretation, b/c that would make the reconstruction of the Pskov apron dress much more comparable to Birka and Hedeby evidence. As it stands now, the Pskov evidence is frequently ignored, even though it is by far the largest piece of an apron dress ever found.

    However, another potential indicator of the lady's size are the surviving silk cuffs from her rubakha/shift. One of the cuffs is beautifully preserved and (if it is preserved in its entire circumference, which is implied in photos, but I cannot verify based on published reports) has about 20-22 cm opening for the hand to come through. That is a very narrow cuff, size XS actually by modern tailoring standards. This would argue against the "the lady was large".

    Also, I want to point out that your have previously stated that the shift was gathered, then pulled tighter with a string. That is not the case for finding in Pskov. The bias tape merely covers the gathering/folds, collecting them into a more narrow neckline, but there is not string. The ethnic shirts are the same way - there is no string running though them, just little tie+loop to close them at the neck.

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  2. Hello, Anya! Welcome.

    I was unaware that there was any skeletal evidence in the Pskov grave in which the apron-dress remnant was found, let alone that deductions had been made from it that the lady in question was elderly. Thanks for noting that the cuffs found in the grave are narrow--I could have looked up the size of the cuffs but did not. The narrow cuffs are an important point, and tend to discredit the hypothesis that the lady was of tremendous girth.

    As for the neckline of the shift, I am quite aware that the neckline was pleated and fastened with a band and did not use a drawstring. That is why I referred to it as "gathered". I'm sorry if my comparison to modern peasant shifts gave the impression that I was claiming the Pskov shift used a drawstring, or for that matter than later-period peasant shifts did; that was not my intent. (In fact, so far as I know the drawstring neckline is late in origin. For example, surviving Italian Renaissance chemises are also gathered or pleated onto a band and sewn in place, though the gathers or pleats are much smaller than on the Pskov shift).

    Thanks for your comments.

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    1. Anya: I just looked up how much 22 cm is in inches. It's about 8.5 inches, which isn't really an "XS" size at all. (I can still wear XS shirts, and I could get my fist through an opening that was 8.5 inches around very easily. Sometimes large people can have small feet and/or hands.

      If the Pskov woman had wrists the size of mine (which are 16 cm at their widest), then I'd consider it unlikely that she could have been as large as the article suggests. But given that the cuffs on the shift were larger than that, the question of whether the woman was big and fat in the rest of her body is in more doubt.

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  3. I got the "XS" from an "estimated cuff size for pattern construction" chart for men, not women. And I agree with your point that large people can have small hands. As I said, the "skeletal evidence" comment keeps floating around in the Russian/Polish forums, but I have as of yet to see any actual evidence. I think that a well endowed viking reenactress needs to take on this reconstruction using the original dimensions, see how it goes. It think it would look awesome. Also, considering how much silk was found just in the box - the lady was rich and could well afford a comfortable lifestyle, whatever it says about her physical proportions.

    Another thing I wanted to bring up, as a Russian speaker who spent some time staring at the Zubkov/Orfinskaya article - all the blue linen neckline pieces was found WITHIN the tortoise brooch, little ties and all. I am not sure if you were aware of that, so I wanted to point it out. I am not sure what kind of conclusions can be drawn from it, as the garments were folded in a chest, not worn. One could hypothesize that the entire ensemble was folded into the chest together and assume from that the lady tended to wear her brooches very high, around clavicles. It is also interesting that even when not worn the brooches still contained linen loops inside, not to mention the putative neckline of the underdress. The scan of the Orfinskaya article is here(http://alyena.io.ua/album196899), you can also see other little bits and bobs they found in the birchbark box, including a piece of three strand braided leather in the mass of deteriorated blue linen they couldn't save (page 6).

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  4. Anya: You are certainly right about the woman being wealthy. Not only was there a lot of silk in the grave, but it was patterned silk of a 9th century design, which means it was old when she received it and had it incorporated into her costume.

    Thank you for the information about where the neckline fragment was found. I did not know that it too had been found within the tortoise brooch. I'm less surprised that the loops were inside the brooches even though the garment was found folded (or at least lying) in a box. I find that it's pretty easy to remove the looser apron dresses I've made by just lifting them over my head, without opening the brooches. Perhaps the Pskov woman did that too, and the garment was put away in the grave as she would have removed it, with the brooches in place.

    A friend of mine had sent me the Orfinskaya article shortly before you posted your comments, but I'm having a hard time getting new information from it because I don't read Russian. So thank you again for mentioning the braided leather piece, but I can't figure out from the photos on page 6 where it could have been. Is the leather piece visible in any of the photos, and if so, in which one?

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  5. Yes, it's on page number 6, labeled 60 on the bottom left, the very bottom panel. The figure legend says "fragment of braided trim, leather (?)". The whole figure shows the bits form the upper unsaveable volume of blue linen, which, aside from braid also contains blue silk (a), red silk(b) and what they describe as fragments from collar (c).

    I can try and translate the article for you, but it'll take time, sorry. I think it should be translated since there is so much interest in the Pskov dress now.

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  6. Anya: Thanks for the information about the photograph, that's very helpful.

    Please don't translate the article just on my account! However, if you decide to translate it for other reasons and put the translation up on the web, please let me know.

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  7. I'm a few months late to the discussion BUT I thought I'd weigh in as a lady of moderately large size-
    I am 5'8" (172.2 cm). My bust and hips are 50" (127cm). broad shoulders, big head, big feet, etc. (I have a smaller waist, as I am hourglass shaped, and I wear a 34J bra). I have been told by doctors that I have a "hefty" build (my skeleton is on the high end of robust for a biological female); I do physical labor for a job so my upper body muscles are pretty well developed but not to the point of looking like a body builder (just general peasant stock-looking). My wrists are 7" in diameter (17.78 cm) and though my hands are large and muscular (i wear a "medium" men's work glove; XL-2XL women's, and it's snug), i can just barely scrunch them to 8.5" (21.59 cm) diameter (I've had to cut bracelets off before). For clothing reference, I wear a US women's 18-22 (depending how it's cut, sometimes I go as low as 16, as high as 26). Though I sometimes find women bigger around than me in the bust, they are rarely bigger in the hands (a 70" bust would be appx a size 42-46 in US Women's clothing. big but not the biggest, plus size women's clothing goes into the mid to high 50s). To fit me without drooping the hanging dress would only have to be scaled down about 70-75% (and the undergown the same).

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    1. synj-munki: Thanks; that's worth knowing. Builds do vary, a lot, and anciently garments were sewn to fit the intended wearer instead of coming in a range of "ready-to-wear" sizes as now. It's useful to have input suggesting that the garment at Pskov was simply for a large wearer and that we shouldn't try to come up with an arcane way to fit it onto a smaller person.

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    2. What I keep thinking about is the grave is apparently a near 6 foot tall wealthy woman more than 80 years old. Wealth and old age in antiquity is often associated with a "prosperous" body type (thinking of those 162cm pants, not to mention ol' Henry 8th and some of the extant garments from Ottoman rulers!)
      .
      I think about my own paternal grandmother (whose body structure I share) who passed away right at 80; she was my height, and about my size in her early 20s (I'm in my 30s) but as a side effect of pre-Metformin diabetes (she was half Cherokee and had type 2 diabetes her entire adult life) carried quite a bit more weight than I in her 30s and into her post-menopausal years (she wore a lot of shapeless menswear but I would peg her in the high 30s/low 40s dress size, in the high 60s inches diameter bust). A lot of her increase in mass was spread out but she had really big boobs and sturdy thighs/hips/ass, maybe not quite a full meter in the front but between low slung bras and her mass definitely had that classic Oma/Babba/elder matriarch shape. Even when she died and had been losing weight as part of failing health for a few years, she was still bigger than I currently am.
      .
      IF (big if, as with all speculation hinging on a handful of fragments) the Pskov woman was an old big boobed matriarch, her breasts were likely a bit pendulous (even with mamillar) and resting on her belly. Having her front be 3 times bigger than her back is not out of possibility (if we measure from side seams directly in the middle of my pits, even with a good squishy sports bra my front chest measurement is twice my back). I could see wanting the front to be a bit taller than the rest, come up over the boobs from the pits a bit and put those brooches in a more youthful high position, but not shove 100 year old silk into the pits (like being very deliberate with placement of victorian lace on a modern garment, in my mind), where it would get rubbed against and get all nasty.
      .
      I don't know. something to think about.

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    3. Oy vey, it's been 4 years, the Russian reenactors remade the dress in custom woven silk and all and we still do not have a photo of a large lady wearing the hangerok. :) One extra fact I wanted to mention is that there is evidence in the silk that the garment was extended in the narrow area with additional silk fragments. It's in the Orfinsakya article. I keep on staring at the silk fragment and trying to visualize it as a pleated piece, ala Kostrup, but the needle holes just aren't there. Wouldn't it be a nice explanation why the silk was chopped up so rudely to decorate the front?

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    4. Vikings had a penchant for chopping up bright, patterned silks for decorating their clothes. Marianne Vedeler talks about this in her book "Silk for the Vikings", which I blogged about here: http://cathyscostumeblog.blogspot.com/search/label/silk

      I will look at the Orfinsakya article and see what I think. Thanks for the reference.

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