Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Woman in Blue

Recently, I stumbled across some articles about a new exhibition at the National Museum of Iceland. The exhibit relates to a grave, excavated in 1938, whose finds have recently been subjected to study using modern scientific methods. The exhibition is called "The Woman in Blue" is called that because textile finds from the grave show that the woman was wearing a blue apron dress when she was interred.  The best news article I've found discussing the study and its conclusions may be read on the Science News website, here

I am reporting on this study because it includes costume textile finds, though the news coverage gives very little information about them.  There is more discussion of the woman's jawbone and teeth, which were tested and have yielded interesting information about their owner.  According to the Science News article:
  • The woman was between 17 and 25 years of age when she died;
  • She was born around the year 900 CE;
  • She was not born in Iceland, but came there either from southern Scandinavia or the British Isles (unsurprising, since Iceland was originally settled sometime between 871 and 930 CE, according to the article);
  • The weaving techniques used to make her apron dress are consistent with those used in 9th-10th century CE Norway or (presumably contemporaneous) Celtic (Irish?) techniques.
The multi-national team that performed the study delivered a poster presentation on it at the 85th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists on April 14, 2016.  A full citation of the presentation, listing the members and the institutions involved, may be seen here.  

According to Science News, there were tortoise brooches in the grave;  one of them ended up pressed against the woman's face, preserving bits of her skin.  That development that will greatly enhance analysis (DNA analysis is being performed on the remains now) to learn more about the woman and her origins, though it is not relevant to the costume aspects of the find.

I am hoping that the study members will eventually publish a research paper with more information about the textile finds.  Any information that might permit a tentative reconstruction of the woman's apron dress would greatly add to our knowledge of Viking age women's costume.


  1. We (my friend Marianne from Iceland an me) have tried to reproduce the fabric for the apron in a one-month stay at Iceland. you will find our ways and problems on my blog, unfortunately in german, but google translator might help. I will also try to answer any question!
    Here is the table of contents of our story!

    1. Hi, Marled! I am attempting to teach myself German with Duolingo but it's a slow process. However, I am eager to read the account of your efforts and Marianne's efforts! I'll look at the blog with Google Translate and let you know if I have questions. Thanks!

  2. What really was astonishing (besides a lot of other things), were the bands, fastened to the apron with the brooches. Unlike in all the other finds in Scandinavia there were no loops, but flat straps of fabric where the needle of the brooch was pierced through and through the fabric of the apron, the holes are still visible on the photos!
    With our work we mainly referred to the publication: Bláklædda konan/ Bundled-up in blue which seem not be longer available :-(. I didn't find in the net any longer.

  3. Sorry, found it again. You can order it here, it s in icelandic and english and there are several pages written by Michele Hayeur - Smith about the textuiles.

    1. Have tried to buy a copy of Bundled Up in Blue after seeing the exhibit last year. I tried the above link but it was not working. Do you have any other suggestions? Thank you.

  4. Loomlady; I don't know why the link Marled gave is not working. You can try contacting the Museum and see whether they can help you. Contact information can be found here: http://www.thjodminjasafn.is/english/for-visitors/permanent-exhibition/temporary-exhibitions/current-exhibitions/bundled-up-in-blue

    Be aware that, if you are seeking to purchase the book by mail from somewhere other than Iceland, the cost may be prohibitive; see my post here: https://cathyscostumeblog.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-woman-in-blue-final-note.html

    In addition, you can obtain a lot of the relevant content from this website: https://northernwomen.org/project-2/

    Hope this helps.