Saturday, May 14, 2016

More About "The Woman in Blue"

In my last post, I drew my readers' attention to a Viking age burial in Iceland that was discovered in 1938 but has only recently been analyzed.

A reader of my blog, Marled, who with a colleague has been experimenting with weaving and then sewing a reproduction of the woman's apron dress (see the comments on my last post), mentioned to me that the National Museum of Iceland has, in conjunction with a related exhibition, published a book about the analysis of the woman's remains and grave goods.   So I started looking on the Internet for a way to obtain the book.

I did not find any sites selling the book (yet), but I did find something else of value:  a YouTube video recording, made in August 2015, of a symposium where members of the study team delivered oral presentations about their findings.  I've embedded it below. The first presentation is delivered in Icelandic, but the rest are in English; the English language presentations begin at approximately 23:45.

Unfortunately, the video is not of the highest quality. The filmed images are somewhat blurry, making the slides used by the presenters hard to read and making it nearly impossible to see details in any of the photographs.  The audio portion of the presentation, though clear, is marred by a distracting shushing sound that persists from beginning to end.  But the information in the symposium video makes it worth viewing despite these technical flaws.

Two of the English language presentations summarize: 1) the conclusions reached upon the basis of analysis of the woman's teeth and skeleton, and 2) conservation of the woman's jaw remains for future analysis.   Those topics, though interesting, are outside the scope of this blog.

However, the last English presentation is solidly within the scope of this blog. That is Michele Hayeur Smith's presentation, which starts at about 1:08:46. Ms. Smith's topic was the analysis of surviving textiles and jewelry of the woman.    Because readers can watch the video for themselves, a detailed summary of Hayeur Smith's talk would be superfluous, but a brief summary of the points of historical costuming interest may be useful.  That is especially true because Hayeur Smith, aware that most of her audience wasn't expert in the details of textile archaeology, spent a lot of time relating basic information (like weave types) and skimmed over some details of the finds.  
  • A pair of tortoise brooches and a trefoil brooch were found in the grave.  The tortoise brooches are type P-52 and the trefoil is P-91.
  • Four different types of fabrics were found in the woman's grave:  a scrap (believed by Hayeur Smith to have been a patch) in tabby weave identified by microscopy as linen; a 2/2 twill in wool, which Hayeur Smith believes to be an apron dress strap; a piece of tablet weaving; and a "wadmal" piece.  However, one of the presentation photographs looks as though it depicts diamond twill, not wadmal.
  • Traces of the linen were also found inside one of the brooches, so Hayeur Smith believes that the woman's underdress was linen.
  • The 2/2 twill and the diamond twill were found to contain indigotin, the dye substance in woad (and indigo) that produces blue. 
  • The tablet woven band appears to have been a starting border; it is an integral part of the fabric fragment of which it is now a part, and was not sewn on.  
  • The tablet woven band was not dyed; it appears to have been a natural cream color and brown.
  • The thread from which the linen and twill were woven was Z-spun in both the warp and the weft.
Having listened to Hayeur Smith's talk, I am even more interested in the exhibition volume.  I also plan to listen more closely to the talk to see whether I can tease out more details that I missed, or pinpoint ambiguities to resolve.  If any of my readers obtain more information, please feel free to raise it in the comments.


  1. Try this link:

    If you have any problems with the icelandic version, mail Eymundsen, they are very helpful.
    There are a lot of points to be discussed in the book.

  2. Marled: Do you recall how much you paid for shipping? I think I can just afford to order the book, if the price isn't too much. You can tell me in Euros and that's fine; is my friend. :-)

  3. I bought the book during my stay in Iceland! The shipping fees are very high and for the US you should als count the custom declaration. You can take a look at this site, Bandaríkin means United States.

  4. Please write me a mail, I maybe can help you. My mail address ist