Saturday, January 25, 2014

Archaeological Textile Report from Iceland

Recently, I found a report about various archaeological finds at the Bessastaðir site in Iceland. (The link leads to the site; it may not be usable unless you have an account on the site, which can be obtained for free.)

Michele Hayeur Smith was one of the scholars who studied the textiles that were found, and the copy of the report from features what I assume is her English translation of the textile portion of the report.  I have not had the opportunity to study the textile report in detail, but the following conclusions appear upon even a casual reading:

  • 36 cloth fragments were found at Bessastaðir.
  • Most (22) of the fragments are 2/2 twills and are believed to have been vaðmál, a type of wool cloth produced in Iceland during the medieval period which was used as a type of currency and whose attributes were regulated by law.
  • None of the fragments were found in a context that would permit reconstruction of whatever garment it may once have formed a part.
  • Most of the fragments have been carbon-dated to the later medieval period, but one, a half-basket weave, dates to the Viking age.  It is unusual, both because most Viking age Scandinavian cloth was not half-basket weave and because most Icelandic cloth was not of this type.
  • Most of the fragments were parts of seams or hems, and thus provide valuable information about sewing techniques; the techniques displayed are similar to those found on the garments found at Herjolfsnaes in Greenland

The report is interesting to me partly because it helps explain why there have been no reconstructions of Viking age garments based upon Icelandic finds, but also because it shows that some of the techniques found in the surviving garments from the medieval Greenland colony were also used in Iceland.  I commend the article to the attention of anyone interested in the history of Scandinavian clothing, particularly during the early medieval period.


  1. Oh, my! Thank you *so much* for linking this! It's just what I needed, as I'm currently working on a reproduction of Greenland gown #42.

    1. Hi, Panth! You're welcome!

      However, if you are making a reproduction of one of the Greenland gowns, you absolutely need to check out this site:

      This woman is making her own Greenland gown reproduction--starting by spinning her own wool to make the cloth, using wool from a breed of sheep that possesses a type of wool that is as close as is possible to get to the type available to the Greenland settlers. Best of luck!

  2. Thank you. This is very interesting.