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Fashioning the Viking Age

Researchers from the National Museum in Copenhagen have reconstructed the clothing found in two of the most famous Viking Age graves in Denmark. Here are the results.

Temporary exhibition

This web exhibitions will last from January 11, 2021 to March 31, 2021.

Bildet kan inneholde: tekstil, ansiktshår, stående, skjegg, kostymedesign.
The reconstructed garments from two graves dated to the 900s; a man’s grave from Bjerringhøj, Mammen, and a woman’s grave from Hvilehøj. Both we interred in large burial mounds on Jutland in Denmark. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.

The man’s clothing from Bjerringhøj

Sometime in the 900s a man of high status was laid to rest in a burial mound in the village of Mammen, Jutland, in Denmark.

The man had been placed in rectangular chamber dug deep into the ground. A large burial mound was raised over the grave. Illustration: Magnus Petersen

He had been given costly grave gifts and lay on a large bedcloth filled with down, his head rested on a pillow of blue wool. The remains of the clothes he wore survive as many small fragments of wool, silk and fur. 10 golden apliques were sewn onto his tunic. No traces of shoes were found. The grave also contained two axes, a wooden bucket, a bronze vessel and a large wax candle.

Bildet kan inneholde: produkt, brun, fotografi, naturlig materiale, så.
These well-preserved parts of his dress were found in the grave. They were probably «cuffs» worn around the trouser legs, and were woven using tablet-weaving and samitum techniques. Photo: National Museum of Denmark.
Bildet kan inneholde: skulptur, rektangel, historie, antikkens historie, historisk sted.
These elaborate «tassles» were also found in the grave, and are the only known examples of this kind from the Viking Age. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark
His tunic was decorated with small golden appliques made of silver and gold foil. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.
Bildet kan inneholde: brun, beige, virvelløse dyr.
Many fragments of a piece of clothing made of wool were embroidered with leaves, masks, animals and birds. Here we see a large piece with an acanthus-leaf pattern, a motif that is not commonly found in Nordic art of the Viking Age. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.
Bildet kan inneholde: natur, brun, gul, fotografi, hvit.
Silk was a very expensive, imported material in the Viking Age. This fragment was woven using the samitum technique. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.

The reconstruction

The textile remains from Bjerringhøj are possibly the best preserved from any Viking grave in Scandinavia. But we do not know exactly where the individual fragments come from, or how they were used. The reconstruction is therefore an interpretation.  It consists of a tunic of undyed wool, embroidered with figures of acanthus leaves, four-legged animals, birds and masks. The cloak is of beaver skin, decorated with tablet-woven bands of wool. The leather shoes are copies of shoes found in the Viking town of Hedeby in Northern Germany.

Bildet kan inneholde: erme, menneskekroppen, sko, tekstil, stående.
The belt around his waist ends in two silk tassels. These contain a field made of gold and silver threads woven using tablet-weaving and needle-binding techniques. The wrists and trouser legs had cuffs of silk and woven bands. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.
Bildet kan inneholde: tekstil, kunst, broderi, sengetøy, kreativ kunst.
The man’s tunic was embroidered with many different motifs. The reconstruction is based on detailed studies of the fragments found in the grave from Bjerringhøj. Photo: Charlotte Rimstad.
Bildet kan inneholde: brun, fotografering, nærbilde.
Here the end «tassels» are being made of silver and gold thread using the needle-binding technique.  Photo: Lone Bjørnskov-Bartholdy.
Bildet kan inneholde: tekstil, rød, rosa, mønster, magenta.
The sleeves and trouser legs have decorative cuffs made of silk and tablet-woven bands. The original bands were made of silk in a samitum weave. Now they have an almost uniform golden colour, but they once were red and gold with a pretty heart pattern. Here is the finished reconstruction. Photo: Åse Eriksen.
Bildet kan inneholde: metall, knute.
Here the tablet-woven band of wool found in the man’s grave is being reconstructed. Photo: Marie Wallenberg.

Men’s clothing in the Viking Age

Men’s wore several layers of clothing. The first was a shirt of linen or wool, and over this, a woolen tunic that reached down to the middle of the thigh or to the knees.  Both types had long sleeves. Men wore trousers of different cuts and lengths, and long or short woven stockings “hosen”. Foot cloths were also used. As outer garments, men wore cloaks or long sleeved coats of cloth or fur.

The woman’s clothing from Hvilehøj

A very special grave was found in a burial mound near the town of Randers in Jutland, Denmark. It was the grave of a noblewoman who was buried in wooden wagon-box, along with many costly grave gifts. She lay on a woolen bedcover filled with down. Remains of her cloths survived as small pieces wool and fur, and shoes of goatskin were found by her feet. She wore a bead necklace with a pendant made of a Frankish coin from the middle of the 900s. She also owned two knives, a pair scissors and a spindle whorl.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, beige, så, insekt, virvelløse dyr.
This is part of a fur garment with tablet-woven bands in geometric patterns, wool rolls  and samitum-woven silk which was found in the grave from Hvilehøj. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.
Bildet kan inneholde: brun, linje, mønster, beige, rektangel.
Nine small fragments of woolen cloth in tabby weave, with geometric patterns woven in. All of the fragments were from the woman’s dress and were found in her chest area. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.
Bildet kan inneholde: brun, mønster, beige, rektangel, torget.
Several fragments of tablet-woven bands were also found in the grave.  Here is a detail of a band made of silk and silver thread. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.
Bildet kan inneholde: brun, blad, beige.
Archaeologists found the remains of shoes of fine leather. They were made of goatskin with the hair-side on the outside. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.
Bildet kan inneholde: rektangel, beige, naturlig materiale, foto av stilleben, torget.
It is not unusual to find strands of beads as part of women’s attire in the Viking Age. These are the beads found in the Hvilehøj grave. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.

The reconstruction

Only small fragments of the garments from the Hvilehøj burial survive. The reconstruction is therefore an interpretation based on scientific analyses.

Bildet kan inneholde: erme, skulder, tekstil, stående, kjole.
The reconstructed garments consist of a red dress with white woven cross patterns. Photo: Roberto Fortuna, National Museum of Denmark.
Bildet kan inneholde: rød, magenta, rødbrun.
This is a Viking Age woman’s dress like you’ve never seen before. When the archaeologists investigated the fine designs on the woolen cloth in the Hvilehøj grave, they discovered geometrical patterns resembling those used in tablet weaving, but here used in different combinations and woven into the fabric. Photo: Ida Demant
Bildet kan inneholde: tekstil, motiv, visuell kunst.
Weaving a tablet-woven band in silk and silver based on the finds from the woman’s grave. The contrast of the well-balanced colours accentuates the geometric patterns.  Photo: Ariadne Kordélla.
Bildet kan inneholde: brun, tekstil, så, lever, fawn.
The reconstructed shoes from the Hvilehøj grave are made of goatskin. Here, one of the skins ready for use. Photo: Theresa Emmerich Kamper.
Bildet kan inneholde: tre, samling.
The fur cape is made of forest marten. It is edged with beaver skin and various bands of wool and silk made using the tablet weaving and samitum techniques. On her feet she wore shoes of goatskin. Photo: Theresa Emmerich Kamper.

Women’s clothing in the Viking Age

Women wore several different types of long dresses in the Viking Age. They often used an undergarment, or chemise, of linen or wool, with long sleeves. Over this was worn a dress of wool. Best known is the “suspended dress”, an outer dress with straps fastened below the shoulders with large oval brooches, like those displayed in Case 5 in the Vikingr exhibition. The Hvilehøj dress is of a different type and does not have straps. For outer garments, Viking women wore a long-sleeved jacket or a cape fasten at the front. These could be of cloth or skin, from either sheep or goats, or more exclusive versions made of the furs of wild animals.

The project Fashioning the Viking Age

The project Fashioning the Viking Age is headed by Ulla Mannering, Eva Andersson Strand, Ida Demant and Charlotte Rimstad. The projest is financed by the VELUX Foundation and is based at The National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen in close collaboration with the Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen and Land of Legends in Lejre. A number of experienced craftspeople have contributed to the making of the reconstructions.

Further exploration of the theme

See the Instagram account for Fashioning the Viking Age.