Friday, January 15, 2021

New Viking Clothing Web Exhibit

Recently, the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, reconstructed two complete outfits, a man's outfit and a woman's.  The man's outfit is based upon a grave in Bjerringhøj, in Jutland, Denmark.  The woman's outfit is based upon a grave at Hvilehøj, also in Jutland.  Both are dated to the 10th century CE.  

The University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History has created a virtual web exhibition based on these costumes, which may be read and viewed here. Further discussion may be read on the reconstruction project's Instagram, which can be accessed here. This post is based upon the information that appears in the web exhibition. 

Left: reconstruction of the costume of the man buried 
at Mammen, Denmark. Photo via Wikimedia Commons*

As has almost always been the case with Viking age grave finds, the textiles recovered from the grave are sufficiently small that ascertaining what scraps came from which garments or items of grave furniture is a matter of interpretation.  The results of the interpretation by the Danish archaeologists may be seen in the photographs of the exhibition.  However, to whet my readers' appetites for viewing the web exhibition, I will provide a brief summary here.

Both the man and the woman are depicted as wearing outer garments made from fur; a cloak in the case of the woman and a coat in the case of the man.  Both wear goatskin shoes, in styles copied from shoes found in Hedeby.  The man's clothes also drew upon the textile finds in the man's grave at Mammen (also in Jutland), which has also been dated to the 10th century. 

The man's clothes feature a belt that ends in large triangular pendants.  The insides of these pendants are decorated with nalbinded fabric fashioned of silver and gold threads, rather like the large bands (believed to have been cloak ends) of the Mammen costume.  His undyed wool shirt is decorated with colored embroidery of a number of different motifs, including motifs found on the man's tunic at Mammen.  The reconstruction includes tablet woven bands trimming the edges of the shirt sleeves and pants, but the grave find appears to indicate that the Bjerringhøj man's shirt was trimmed with red silk fabric in a samite weave, decorated with a gold-thread heart motif.  That fabric was reproduced separately, and a photograph of the reconstructed samite also appears in the web exhibition.

The woman's gown is made from wool, with woven-in geometric designs in the chest area (because all of the geometrically decorated wool in her grave was found in the chest area). Remains of tablet woven bands with metal threads were found in her grave, and appear as part of the edging on her fur cloak.  No brooches, either tortoise-shaped or otherwise, were found in the grave, and therefore none appear in the reconstruction, but some glass beads were found, which are reproduced as a necklace.  A Frankish coin from the middle of the 10th century appears to have been the centerpiece of this necklace.

Without more specific information about the actual textile scraps recovered, it is impossible to deduce all of the reasons supporting these costume interpretations (e.g., why was the man's costume reproduced with yellow pants?).  I will be looking out for a report of the reconstructions, and reviewing the Instagram account of the project very closely!

EDIT:  (1/17/2021)  I recommend checking out the project's Instagram (link above).  It contains a number of pictures not featured in the web exhibition, including a back view of the man's reconstructed coat.

* Nationalmuseet - The National Museum of Denmark from Denmark, CC BY-SA 2.0


  1. Happy New Year, Cathy! I'm sorry I haven't been around much recently.

    They've done a really impressive job reconstructing these textiles. I'd also be interested to know why they made the particular choices they did. They obviously had good reasons, but I'd like to know what information informed their decisions.

    1. Hi, Stella! I haven't been around that much on this blog either, and it's my blog, so you have nothing to apologize for. ;-)

      If I find out more about the information that informed their decisions, I will certainly blog about it.