Monday, September 11, 2017

Bronze Age Zipper?

The video to the right of this post is a recent Internet discovery of mine.  It shows a modern replica of Bronze Age sword belt and purse,  found in a grave at Hvidegården,  Denmark.

Ørjan Engedal, a professor at the University of Bergen and an archaeologist who is also an artisan, made a bronze sword with a scabbard, a small leather bag, and a sword belt, based upon the Hvidegården find.  The bag, or pouch or purse or whatever you want to call it, has an unusual closure.  The closure is a series of closely-spaced, alternating leather loops through which a long bronze pin is thrust.  The result looks much like a modern zipper though the method of closure is simpler in that no slider is used.

The Hvidegården grave was actually discovered in 1845; a brief article about it in Danish may be found here. Apparently the grave is thought to be one of a shaman or wizard, based upon the odd contents of the "zipper" pouch; they include (as best I can make out from Google Translate's English rendition of the article) a razor, a small wooden cube, a seashell from the Mediterranean, and part of the jaw bone of a squirrel.

It seems to me that the existence of this pouch is some support for the position that "there is nothing new under the sun."  In other words, the idea of a zipper-type closing certainly was possible before the zipper as we know it was invented; it probably did not become an acceptable closure because, with Bronze Age technology, it was fiddly and awkward to make and a bit awkward to use.  A technology spreads when the infrastructure necessary to support the manufacturing process and the materials needed are readily available and result in an easy-to-use product that fills a common need.  That is as true for clothing and bags as it is for computers and cars.


  1. Thank you for this link ... it is wonderful to see the inventfulness ..

  2. I have seen a number of SCA gambesons over the years that use this sort of closure system, but with cloth loops instead. It is fiddly to put on, since each loop needs to go through the next (the final step is to put a single length through the last loop and tie it with a second single length). However, when one is ready to take it off, one need only untie that top loop, then the rest just comes open as one tugs on the gambeson to take it off, meaning that when one is over-heated or injured and wants out of armour quickly one can do it. I never realized that there was a period example of this approach.

    1. Interesting! I've never heard of the "zipper" approach you describe for SCA gambesons being used on clothing during the SCA period, though the Bronze Age "zipper" bag shows that someone thought of the concept at least.

    2. Interesting! This is exactly the closure method on our medieval tents, though I've never seen anyone here (UK) use it for gambesons.

  3. How fascinating! What it actually reminds me of most is not a zip but a hinge. If you peened the other end of the bronze pin over so that it couldn't be retracted, it'd basically be a hinge in leather.

    You get very similar hinges in 14th C bascinets with the 'houndskull' style of visor, allowing the visor to be completely removed. With those, the removable pin is attached to a short cord or chain to prevent it being lost. E.g.

  4. Hi, Miriam! Thanks for stopping by.

    It is rather more like a hinge than a zipper--except for the removability of the pin that allows opening and closing of the bag. I didn't know bascinets used a feature of similar appearance! Thanks for the info, and the link.