Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reconstruction of the Lendbreen Tunic

A few months ago, I posted about a joint project to reconstruct the Hammerum dress, which dates to about 100 CE.  A video showing the reconstruction process had been posted to YouTube, and I wrote about it here

Yesterday, I found another reconstruction video on YouTube.  This one is a reconstruction of the Lendbreen tunic, a male garment found intact due to the melting of a glacier in Oppland County, Norway.  Because that garment received even more press attention than the Hammerum tunic, I figured that information about its reconstruction would be of interest to my readers.

The Lendbreen tunic dates to approximately 300 CE. Unlike the Hammerum reconstruction video, this one was recorded in Norwegian, but there are English subtitles throughout.  So it should be possible for an English-speaker to obtain useful information from the video even if it is watched without sound (though one misses out on the baaing of the sheep that way).

The video begins with the finding of the tunic.  It turns out that Norwegian archaeologists have been visiting areas where glaciers are melting, to see what artifacts may be emerging from the ice. That is how the Lendbreen tunic was discovered.  The video emphasizes that this is the oldest garment ever found in Norway--about 1700 years old.

The archaeologists deduced that the garment belonged to a slender young man, based upon the garment's cut and size.  It had also seen very heavy wear while it was in service.  It was well-made from diamond twill wool, but no human remains have been found near it, and no other artifacts, so how it came to be in the ice remains a mystery.

Like the Hammerum dress reconstructors, the Lendbreen tunic team started by getting native wool from sheep.  They chose wool from Villsau sheep, an old Norwegian breed they judged to be closest to the wool that would have been available during the early Iron Age when the tunic was made.  The video shows the wool being pulled off of the sheep in a process called "rooing" in English.  Doing so better preserves the natural qualities of the two-layered wool of the Villsau sheep--the tough water-repellant outer fibers and the soft, insulating under coat.

Because it would have taken hand-spinners 15 weeks to spin the 2.5 kg of wool necessary for the cloth to make the tunic, the Lendbreen reconstruction team chose to compromise by having the Villsau wool mechanically spun.  The spun thread was woven on a warp-weighted loom.  Curiously, though the fabric was woven in a diamond twill from light and dark threads, the impression given by the fabric from a short distance is simply of a mottled or heathered color; one needs to look "real close" to detect the diamond weave pattern.  The resulting fabric was turned over to seamstresses to be cut based upon a pattern prepared from the original tunic, and sewn by hand.

Although this video does not go into the level of detail about the actual reconstruction work that the Hammerum video did, it still provides insight about the effort required to make clothing in early times, and the effort and skill necessary to make hard-wearing garments that were attractive.  It is well worth the time of anyone interested in early period clothing and clothing history.

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